By Nels Hanson
turned like a lost ship’s propeller plying a wide Sargasso
Sea. Out the window the blue gum grove above the vineyard was
growing black and I watched the outline of the Coast Range move
and go still, the silhouette of a woman turning in her sleep.
Why didn’t Kate leave her room to meet her love,
lift the screen and descend the trellis of yellow roses in a
dress whose cut and color like a talisman, a moonstone, would
determine the night, tell what would happen as my heart raced
At my feet lay the purple dress,
it rhinestones and Joaquin’s hidden diamonds beginning to
light up with Venus and the early stars—
Home? Am I
home? I had wondered that first morning when I’d awakened
in the room at the top of Kyla’s farmhouse beneath the elm,
on an island at the center of a green sea of vines.
driver Eddie Dodge was gone, I was alone, now there was no
smiling girl named Kate, no young specter of myself at the
doorstep to reassure Dolly Mable that finally the nightmare had
ended and never again would the beautiful wings leave her.
instantly begun to doubt that Kyla was the Gold Lady who appeared
after the Butterfly’s short fearsome flight, the figure
standing in shining splendor and watching tenderly from the aura
of morning sun in Acacia.
Kyla was kind and efficient,
but distant, like a hired nurse—Kyla was Kyla, not some
Eagerly I’d searched her face for the
little girl that I’d cherished and remembered half a
century, that I’d caught a glimpse of in the worried caring
woman reaching toward the window of the blue ’36 Cadillac
after Eddie Dodge had finally found the farm.
mother had come home, like the blue bird in the children’s
story we’d both loved, we were together again, a miracle
But I discovered only a fatigued, anxious,
I felt disoriented, nervous,
terribly on edge.
Where was the Butterfly? Was it here?
When? A minute ago? Now? The purple dress? Who had Murrietta’s
The door was shut, open, shut, shut, open. Kyla
hurried back and forth with toast and tea and clean linens, a
softer pillow, the portable TV, a fan, extra towels she said
she’d put in the bathroom across the hall.
time Kyla wanted to call a doctor, but I told her no, all I
needed was rest.
“Here, let me at least open the
“No, please don’t.”
watched the long open rip in the rusty screen.
you’ve got to have air.”
all right, really, I’m cold all the time.”
are? Let me take your pulse.”
I pulled my arm away,
turning my head in embarrassment for Kyla and myself.
asked me what I had told people in town, when Eddie Dodge and I
had stopped in Lemas for directions. Kyla suggested it would be
better if I went by “Mrs. Grayson” and kept to the
alternate history Kyla had worked out. Baylor Clark, the town
gossip, was already snooping around.
The first days I
lived in suspense, listening to the sounds of the house, Kyla’s
footsteps approaching my room, vague voices at lunch and dinner,
the slamming of a screen door, tractors pulling out, the
difference between the pickup’s engine and the car’s.
Now and then I imagined I heard a lighter step pass my
door, and sometimes when I moved quickly down the hall the
bathroom air was sweet and moist as if a girl had just bathed and
then powdered before the full-length mirror that faced the
medicine cabinet’s small mirror above the sink. I found
just the usual things, the only clue a bottle of oral iodine for
a Florence Rhodes, prescribed by Dr. Wagner, the expiration date
Once the large mirror was still partly fogged and I
thought I saw where a finger had touched, written something in
the steam before the droplets ran down the glass.
Sometimes I imagined a muffled radio played
along the hall, over the programs I watched on Kyla’s TV—
I tried to keep track of the political news, how the
Democrats were preparing for the convention by the Golden Gate.
It scared me, so much hung in the balance, like a last single
apple dangling and twisting on a stem, not just America but the
I often saw the vulnerable Earth, blue and
spinning slowly through the lonesome cold and silence of black
space, when I closed my eyes and said a prayer to the Gold Lady.
Ronald Wilson Reagan had brashly threatened the Russians
head-on with his missiles, the “Peacekeepers.” On May
7th the Soviets pulled out of the L. A. Olympics.
1984, Orwell’s Year. Any fool could see all of history was
ending, the world reaching its climax.
“We begin bombing Russia in five minutes,” Reagan
joked over an open mike.
Once I saw Delmus, Kyla’s
husband. He came around the side of the house, lifted the shovel
that leaned against the elm tree, then walked in long strides
back toward the barnyard. He appeared a handsome, tall man, with
broad shoulders and a narrow, comical face, like the actor Jack
He got up early, before six. Breakfast was at
seven-thirty, lunch at 12 sharp, supper around seven, with my own
dinner coming a little later.
I’d forgotten my
clock, but I didn’t want to ask Kyla. I could figure time
by the angle of the sun, and the shrill town whistle from Lemas.
Anyway, my heart beat like a clock.
(Since Reagan had
become president, the concerned scientists’ “Doomsday
Clock” that measured the chance of atomic war, the time to
Armageddon, had been moved up—now its black hands pointed
at one minute before midnight.)
west window I saw the vineyards, the plum orchard north of it,
beyond that a eucalyptus grove that frightened me at sundown,
when it loomed like a great black iron ship above the ocean of
darkening vines and I remembered Lincoln’s recurring dream
of the boat that never reached shore, then Aaron’s Anna
lost on the Titanic.
Fear Death by Water.
I could hear the neighbor’s peacocks crow.
first night I heard them, I sat up, calling for Kyla.
appeared in the doorway in a cotton nightgown.
all right? It’s four-thirty in the morning.”
“Someone’s being attacked—”
“What?” Kyla frowned, her face half in shadow
at the edge of the lamplight.
hear it, that scream?” I wanted to get up, to get my .32
Colt derringer from the trunk.
Kyla murmured, turning back toward the door. “Mrs. Watkins’
peacocks. You’ll get used to them. Just try to go back to
Kyla’s words had been gentle—“You’ll
get used to them”—and from a thousand dim faces I
recalled tenderly Kyla’s father. Was he still alive?
“‘Wait a little longer, / Till your little
wings are stronger, / Then, then you can fly away.’”
How sweet Kyla had been as she placed her small hand over
the final page that showed the two bluebirds, the mother bird and
her chick, Kyla almost with tears in her eyes as she begged me
not to read the last words and made me promise to never send her
But the peacocks wouldn’t stop, they crowed
and crowed like taunting demonic roosters, their calls awful
parodies of a woman’s desperate cries for help.
the morning Kyla didn’t mention the affectionate visit in
the early hours, inquired only how I’d slept and what I’d
like for breakfast.
I wanted to ask if she could say the
little rhyme about the bluebirds, but I was afraid, I couldn’t
get Kyla’s attention.
She seemed uncomfortable,
agitated, afraid to stand in the same room with her mother, as if
together we shared a crowded cell. She kept exclaiming about the
closeness of the air, how unhealthy it was, then suddenly darted
past the foot of the bed for the window.
open the sash, exposing the wide, jagged tear in the screen. She
turned to me, smiling, breathing deeply the morning breeze.
“There,” she said, “isn’t that
I nodded and waited, my hands clenched
under the sheet until Kyla went out and I moved hastily to the
window to slam it shut.
Each morning we argued about the
window, I couldn’t rest or get a sound sleep, my heart kept
speeding up or faltering, like an engine unable to maintain its
Every night Aaron Markham’s blue unblinking
man’s eye watched at the keyhole, before a remembered
whistle began, a tune like a round that went on and on in
circles, like the Ferris wheel, at the top of its arc failing to
break free and reach a fitting climax, always starting over in
search of the ending it would never find . . . .
With one wing, in nightmares, the Butterfly twirled down in
Sometimes I recalled Kate, who seemed
increasingly unreal and was beginning to fade like a phantom,
just as the Gold Woman in Acacia had started to blur and wane in
brightness like the moon, become another mistaken vision I’d
constructed spontaneously in self-protection as death grazed past
I knew now that the girl had been a dream, the
failing heart’s projected image, some strange memory of
myself as once I must have been, before Aaron and the Ferris
wheel. Before San Francisco, Dr. Bolger and the Butterfly—
I missed my house and books, my old solitary life, the
morning Chronicle and coffee, the good columnists and political
commentary, the simple daily chats with Hack Wilson over the
phone, always glad he was just across the street at the Standard
station, but I knew it was too late to go back, I couldn’t
live there again after the thing that had happened before the
rush of returning wings.
Still, I felt hopelessly adrift
on the unbroken expanse of vineyard that reached almost to the
Coast Range—I imagined a woman locked in a cabin on an
abandoned ship taken by the wind and waves—only here and
there the white boats of houses and barns, out the north window
the tips of conifers and the shine of the water tower that marked
“Where am I?” I finally asked the Book
of Changes, closing my eyes, the coins warm in my still hands.
The Lincoln pennies fell a sixth and final time across
the wrinkled sheet and I saw two heads and a tail. With a pen I
drew the solid sixth line on the pad, so the hexagram looked like
I / Corners of the Mouth
KÊN KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN
CHÊN THE AROUSING, THUNDER
heed to what a man seeks to fill his own mouth with.”
eye fell from THE JUDGMENT to the THE IMAGE:
the foot of the mountain, thunder;
Image of Providing Nourishment.
the superior man is careful of his words
temperate in eating and drinking.
Reluctantly, I glanced
at the footnote from Mencius:
“The body has
superior and inferior, important and unimportant parts. We must
not injure important parts for the sake of the unimportant, nor
must we injure the superior parts for the sake of the inferior.
He who cultivates the inferior parts of his nature is an inferior
man. He who cultivates the superior parts of his nature is a
For man I read woman: Body. Bodie.
At first I took it as an admonition, a warning.
been eating too much, Kyla was a good cook. As if she fattened an
animal, Kyla fed me too well, like the pig in the pen by the
And in the late afternoons, I’d begun taking
a bottle from the trunk, having a warm cocktail before supper as
I watched the sunset and saw the Coast Range like a dreaming
woman reappear in dark outline.
exceeded my small daily ration of Camels.
been circumspect in my talks, I hadn’t pushed Kyla to
reminisce about her childhood in Acacia or what happened later
with the Lawrences in Fresno. I didn’t ask about Kate, sure
she wasn’t real, that Kyla would frown and answer, “Do
you imagine there’s someone living next door, just out of
sight? Kate? Kate who? What person do you mean?”
politic? I hadn’t been reading widely, as I used to do, I
wasn’t getting my paper or the national magazines, The
Nation, The Progressive and Mother Jones, though I’d kept
up with the Democrats as closely as I could with the TV news and
when Kyla remembered to bring the Fresno Bee.
else did I think about, really think about, except the Butterfly?
“Many men will leave the Earth on the wings of the
Butterfly, and when you die, Pretty Lady, it will fly away!”
exclaimed proud Dr. Bolger. “What a wonderful way to die!”
But I’d missed some of the text at the end of THE
"God comes forth in the sign of the Arousing:
when in the spring the life forces stir again, all things come
into being anew. He brings perfection in the sign of Keeping
Still: thus in the early spring, when the seeds fall to earth,
all things are made ready."
are made ready,’” I repeated, looking out across the
vineyards’ May green. “‘All things are made
It became like a little prayer that
I said to myself, when I felt sad or nervous, especially at
night, when I couldn’t sleep, my heart hurt, and I felt the
Butterfly shiver and tense its wingtips at my knees and
I no longer wondered who the Gold Lady had
been or if she’d been anybody at all, now I didn’t
pray to her or see her brilliant form when I closed my eyes on a
world that grew steadily darker, as if a huge new planet, black
and made of freezing iron, were eclipsing the sun, moving into
position to lock perfectly forever across its bright face.
Seven days after consulting the oracle,
as desolately I poured another Wild Turkey at sunset, suddenly I
felt relieved and exultant as Scrooge on Christmas morning—
On the nightly news
I noticed the young congresswoman from Queens, she looked
strangely familiar, now the reporter mentioned her as a long-shot
I got up from the bed
and quickly moved to the set, examining the woman’s shining
face and eyes, as the commentator described her underprivileged
childhood with a widowed mother, her husband and family and
education, how she’d put herself through school selling
handkerchiefs at Bloomingdale’s, her work as a lawyer
before she’d entered politics as a protégé of
House Speaker Tip O’Neil.
She was born August 26th,
on Susan B. Anthony’s birthday, the same date the 19th
Amendment, Women’s Suffrage, became law in 1921, the year
before I had cast my first vote for the Democrats. I’d
forgotten that 1984 was the centennial of the birth of Eleanor
Now my hand touched the screen, like someone
blind I compared Ferraro’s smooth cheek and lips and soft
blonde hair to the woman who stood briefly yet forever smiling
kindly at my bedside in Acacia in the risen light. They had the
“I’ve seen her,” I said
when Kyla brought my dinner.
“Seen who?” Kyla
stopped short, balancing a plate of meatloaf and carrots and a
glass of milk.
“Ferraro,” I said, “I
knew her right away.”
Now Kyla carefully set the milk on the night table.
minute ago. It was Ferraro—”
that her name?”
“Yes, she’s going to
run for vice president. With Mondale.”
at me with concern.
“The Gold Lady is?”
“Yes,” I said, “I’m mean no.
She’s from New York—”
North Oaks, Minnesota.
Land of a Thousand Lakes. That’s where Mondale would
announce it, at his family’s summer retreat!
I thought suddenly, as if someone whispered in my ear.
didn’t know they’d decided that already—“
Kyla watched me spread the napkin across my lap.
haven’t,” I said, trying to muffle my excitement so I
wouldn’t startle Kyla. My hands shook.
they will. What did Tiny Tim say? ‘God bless us everyone.’”
“Well— I’m glad. Are you ready? Here
“I am too—” I was hardly
able to hold the plate without spilling. I fumbled with my fork.
“So am I—”
“I hope you like it.”
“Oh it’s wonderful, just marvelous!”
“Well, you’re welcome. It’s so
important that you eat, to build your strength. That and rest.”
“I’ll sleep well tonight!”
know, I’ve been meaning to ask you—”
Kyla had no conception of the historical
weight of what was occurring, she was like someone asleep, who’d
led a sheltered existence and didn’t recognize the most
important day of her life, of every woman’s life in America
and across the globe—of every woman who ever lived and died
or waited to be born!
“If the radio bothers you,
when you try to nap?”
“Radio? No, it doesn’t
bother me a bit. I never hear it. I watch the TV, to see
I felt like singing, “‘All
things are made ready, / All things are made ready.’”
“If it does,” Kyla said, she watched as I
tried to spear a carrot, it kept falling from the fork, “I’ll
tell Kate to turn it down.”
I shook my head slowly,
careful the plate didn’t slide to the floor.
no, Kyla, no— Let her play it. Let her play it all she
It was true, no hallucination or desperate
“You let me know, if you change your mind—”
Kate was real, like the woman in gold I’d described
to Kyla that first day.
Mistakenly I’d thought Kyla
was the One, lost my faith and then half an hour ago got it back
in a rush, realizing the Lady with the heartrending smile was in
careful disguise and running for the second-most-important office
in the world.
Kate was real. I almost whispered it aloud.
“I’d nearly forgotten about Kate,” I
lied, pretending to gather the carrot slices with the tines of my
“That first day I felt a little confused—”
“I told Kate not to bother you, that you needed to
rest and settle in.”
better now, more at home.”
I looked up now at Kyla,
wanting to scream, “Where is she this instant? Let her come
running, let me take her in my arms, hold her close forever and
stroke her lovely face!”
“Maybe she and I can
Kyla moved suddenly to the end of the
bed, at first gazing down at the purple dress.
in a lowered voice, she reminded me that I was Mrs. Grayson, from
Not to be rude or insensitive, Kyla explained,
but Kate knew nothing about me, maybe it was better that way. Why
give Kate something to wonder about, after all these years?
“You told her
I was dead?”
“I said I didn’t know. That I grew up with the
Lawrences, in Fresno—”
Anyway, I probably
wouldn’t see much of Kate, Kate stayed to herself a lot,
reading, studying on her own. She was going to college.
“This fall. She has to prepare.”
nodded bravely, as if I’d been slapped and now tried not to
cry. I felt devastated by my daughter’s obvious reluctance
that I spend time with my granddaughter, my own blood—Kyla
didn’t want Kate to even know that Dolly Mable was alive.
On this day of all
It was like a
quarantine, if Kate came too close she might catch a latent,
fatal family disease that would destroy her moral character and
ruin her life, make her sprout wings and fly from city to city
like a harpy performing carnal acts with untold multitudes of
soldiers home on leave.
“I’m the friend of
your parents, the one who worked with your mother in the store
but was scrupulously virtuous and never intimate with your
What did it matter, if Kate existed and I
never saw her?
“Just say you knew me, when I was
“That’s true,” I said,
looking closely at Kyla. “Do you remember—?”
“Not really. I’m afraid I forgot.” She
glanced over her shoulder toward the window and I tensed.
not too warm.”
“Delmus is so busy. I wonder
if the insects would come in? I’ve got to remind him to fix
“At night the mosquitoes are
“The porch light draws June bugs and
“I don’t want to get bitten,”
I answered. “We better leave it closed. I’m all right
“Oh, well,” Kyla said,
“sometime soon. It’s a shame the north window doesn’t
open. You could get some cross-ventilation—”
things are made ready,’” I reminded myself, setting
the plate aside and turning toward the window with the broken
screen as Kyla closed the door. All things are made ready.
next afternoon—in the middle of a nightmare so intense
Ferraro couldn’t reach me, it was New Year’s Eve and
Aaron announced that Anna had returned as a child named Lei
Wang—someone knocked at my door and I wanted my gun.
I was in Lemas, in Kyla’s old farmhouse beneath the elm,
not in Aaron’s white mansion on the cliff above the
Pacific, the blue flag with the gold-embroidered A flying from
the pole atop the highest turret.
The knock was softer,
tentative, not Kyla’s.
Swiftly I smoothed my hair,
straightened my nightgown and the wrinkled sheet, then took two
slow deep breaths as I realized that all of my life had been a
chain of doors opening inward to nervous rooms where I waited
alone and half-prepared.
“Come in,” I said,
trying to keep my voice from cracking.
swung ajar as if pushed by a breeze and something like the
embodied starlight slipped through, a gliding quiet goddess
biding her human hours until night when the dew and stars and
crescent moon appeared.
She was just as the first
time when I saw her on the front step, an unearthly living twin
of the striking girl who wore the butterfly brooch and watched
now from the picture on the night table.
I greeted my lost self, the fresh intact
living ghost of my youth standing before me in the flesh, before
the Harvest Fair and Aaron Markham—
said the girl, returning my stare, then shyly dropping her gaze.
“How are you?”
“Fine,” I said,
“much better. And you?”
Kate looked at me again, boldly and straight on, so
I saw my powdered face reflected in the green eyes of the young
woman I’d been a lifetime ago.
“Have you been studying?”
know how to address Kate’s august presence, her person as
immediate and immaculate as the Gold Lady’s.
noticed the cast of the slender wrists and lovely hands, a
perfect match of my own, before the kidnap and the night car
journey to San Francisco.
“I haven’t felt like
Kate glanced down at the velvet dress, dipping
her head as gracefully as a swan.
kind of hot,” I said, watching the girl’s perfect
She shook her head and her rich hair swayed,
flashing five colors, brown, chestnut, red—
heat doesn’t bother me.”
half-lifting her green eyes so I leaned forward with anxious
“It’s all right,” I said.
“It’s kind of personal.”
“I don’t know—”
Now Kate put out a sudden finger, touching one of the velvet’s
shining diamonds, by instinct she’d chosen a real gem.
“That boy who brought you,” she began. “Was
he your chauffeur?”
At first I thought Kate somehow
spoke about Ramon, that like eyes and hands we shared the same
memories, then that Kate was I and I was a ghost, a phantom from
know, your driver,” Kate said. “That boy who brought
“Just for the day.”
wanted to reach out and touch the girl’s arm, to feel her
skin’s warmth, her heart’s pulse. I watched her every
movement, the slightest inflection of brows and eyes and mouth.
Any second she might disappear, leap back across the silver brush
and monogrammed mirror into the photograph in the leather frame.
“You paid him?”
“I gave him my
“You’re kidding,” Kate
said, looking up from the glittering dress. “That was very
generous of you.”
“I don’t need it
anymore. I don’t drive.”
If Kate asked for
the dress with its memories and diamonds, quickly I would give
everything to her. All I had or was I would hand instantly to the
girl. But would it be enough?
“Besides, the boy was
nice, very kind and courteous, very understanding.”
knew him, before he drove your car?”
that was the first day. He works for a man I know, a man who runs
a service station.”
“He’s about 19,
“He was that age when I met
him,” I said, smiling kindly. “He must be 55, 60.”
“No, the boy,” Kate said, flushing. “Eddie.”
“Oh,” I said. “Yes, 19. Young.”
“He’s sort of handsome, don't you think?”
Kate smiled, a dimple suddenly appearing on her shapely chin. She
“Yes, he’s handsome,” I said,
“very very handsome.” I nearly raised a hand to touch
my face and feel the dimple.
“He lives in Acacia,”
Kate said softly. “Do you know where?”
I answered. “I’m afraid I don’t—”
Kate’s forehead shone smooth and clear, her
soft auburn hair thick and beautiful, with red and copper
streaked under and through the darker browns, like my hair once.
“I just wondered.” Kate lifted her face.
“Don’t tell Kyla.”
“That I asked about him. She doesn’t
like me to go out.”
She looked away, toward
“So no one ever asks me. Maybe they
wouldn’t ask even if I could.”
course they would. They will,” I said firmly. “You’re
a very pretty girl. A beautiful girl—”
pushed back the hair from her cheek.
“I have a
scar, see—” She tilted her head. “I fell
against the iron headboard when I was five.”
the minor flaw that always gives a woman mystery. I can hardly
“You think so?”
know so. Here—” I reached toward the night table.
Kate stood beside the bed, examining
herself in the upheld mirror.
beautiful, like you—”
at your hair first, auburn hair, all streaked with caramel and
She dipped her chin.
at your eyes”—“our eyes,” I almost said.
“That special shade. Emerald? Or ocean green, like a
cresting wave. The green light inside the wave? What would you
“You have a lovely
nose and a pretty mouth and teeth.”
Now Kate lowered the
mirror the Butterfly had perched on May Eve in Acacia.
face was a living mirror, reflecting time past and recovered.
I was breathless.
“I’ve looked through the
Acacia phone book but there aren’t any Dodges.”
Kate’s smile had disappeared. “I don’t know how
to find Eddie.”
There was something heartbreakingly
shy about her, like those plants that droop their feathery leaves
if someone speaks too loudly or lights a match in the room.
“Delmus says when you feel like you’re alone
on some strange planet, you need to remember you’re not the
first, somebody’s been there before you— Like in that
movie, “Journey to the Center of the Earth—”
“Oh, honey. It’s so hard to be young.”
“It is. I’m on Pluto.” Kate’s
weak laugh broke in the middle.
3. Chun / Difficulty at the Beginning.”
reached for the I Ching.
“You have to sort out the
threads from their tangle, before you bind them into skeins.
‘Separate, then unite, to find your place in the infinity
“I don’t understand.”
“You need a string, to find your way out of the
Kate needed someone motherly who
wasn’t her mother, someone who could be objective. Someone
with a wide experience of life, who knew how all the pieces fit
together, how each life was a river with many bends and
switchbacks, shallows and falls.
You were the boat and
also the river. You needed to stay out in the middle where the
channel was deep, away from the shore and sandbars, where people
waved and called to you from the trees.
You needed to go
with the current and yet not. To row and not to row. Sometimes
the best thing to do was reverse oars, hold back, don’t let
the current sweep you out too soon but wait and then glide to the
open sea when you were ready.
At night there were
wreckers, they’d light a fire to lure you in, make you
crash on the rocks and loot your cargo.
With her voice
breaking, Kate spoke about Eddie, about the way everything looked
different after he left.
How the leaves of the vineyard
were etched sharper, greener, between the rows the hot sand
glistening like quartz, the barn’s roof stark against the
bright blue sky.
And how she felt different. How
everything was a part of her. The yellow roses at the window
bloomed within her own breast.
“Now it’s like
I’ve swallowed the thorns,” she said, bringing a hand
to her chest. There were tears in her green eyes.
you have a telephone?” I asked gently. It was as if she had
spoken of Ramon.
cord reach in here?”
Kate came and knelt at the
“Thank you,” she said, taking my hands
“It will be all right,” I said.
How could I tell the girl that somehow I was only helping
myself, that through her the past could be rescued? That in some
way it would be Dolly in a white blouse and pink skirt running
through the spring night to meet Ramon Zapata?
But it was
more than that, more complicated and more simple. In deep
sympathy for the girl I felt a cleansing wash of sympathy for
myself, as I must have been at the Harvest Fair, when I stepped
innocently into the swinging white carriage of the Ferris wheel.
Kate brought the phone and I called the station and
talked to Hack. I reassured him that I was all right, that it was
true I had given Eddie the Cadillac.
“Yes, dear,” I told him. “I love you too.
I asked him to get Eddie on the line, then
held out the receiver.
I nodded and Kate took the phone.
“Hello?” she said.
There was a pause.
It was Eddie who asked first, he’d been
thinking about Kate but was too nervous to call. Anyway, her
number was unlisted.
“Yes, at nine.”
They had made a date to meet
in the orchard after dark. Kate ran to choose a dress and as the
door closed I looked out at the sunlit vineyard.
million grape leaves stirred in the afternoon breeze rushing down
the far canyons from the sea. Each leaf had a certain shape and
notched edge, a secret name like a star. I knew them all.
the stars and the grains of dirt like stars. I saw it all, every
stem and clod.
I was all of it, it was all of me. Always
and ever. I was large and small, God and Kate and a bit of
sparkling dust on the Butterfly’s motionless, resplendent
All things are made ready—
Kyla told a strange story about a big, blue-speckled dog that had
come to the door. She had shooed the dog away and gone out to
hang the wash. She returned to the kitchen and found the canister
fallen from the top of the refrigerator, sugar spread all across
the floor. The grains were undisturbed, not a paw print. The
hamburger thawing in the sink wasn’t touched.
felt an earthquake?
In the twilight, by pure chance I saw
a shooting star, just as I put down the newspaper Kyla had
brought me, that showed the first picture of Ferraro.
sky was a fading gold. I glimpsed a brown rock shoot past the
window with thin spiraling white smoke like smoke from a
cigarette trailing from its rumpled surface.
five-foot silver tracer raced two yards behind the meteor toward
It gave me an odd thrill, seeing the
coffee-colored stone the size of a golf ball, the delicate steam
and then the finely drawn gleaming contrail streaking like a
bright wish across the evening sky—
I lay looking
toward the west, thinking of the rock’s heat making vapor
and light, a stone from dark space falling at an angle against
the huge rock that was Earth. It had nearly hit my window.
my pillows, watching as the darkness seeped through the pale film
of sky, I sensed great worlds sweeping past, casting lunar
shadows, exerting clockwork, geometric gravities, undiscovered
planets aligning along a single perfect plane.
things are made ready.’”
It was night when I
heard the screen open and slap against the window frame and
feared it was Aaron at my window, he was going to help the
“If you wish, we can meet later—”
He’d whispered as I held the gun and he lay in the
white suit turning red, the purple dress with Murrietta’s
diamonds still under his arm, the wedding gift for Lei Wang who
I pushed myself upright, thinking of the gold
gun locked in the black trunk. Then something shook along the
side of the house. I threw back the sheet.
window I glanced down just in time to see Kate crossing the lawn
in quick strides, then abruptly stopping, turning back to look at
I lifted a hand to wave, but Kate turned again
and entered the tall darkness of the vineyard, her white blouse
flashing once and disappearing like a thought.
sleep, imagining the girl in the pink skirt moving alone among
the grape leaves and hidden crickets, toward the shadowed orchard
before the blue gums where like Pluto, King of the Underworld,
Eddie Dodge would step from behind a plum tree.
was an explorer gone to discover her own new world. Each woman
was the first, and each maiden voyage as strange and dangerous as
If you landed, the found thing
found you. Like a stranger, you looked back across the changed
water at the odd towers of home. I remembered the flashing meteor
and Aaron’s black ring made from a fallen star.
lay awake all night—
Had something happened? Was
Kate all right? It was all my fault. Was there a sound, just
then, a second ago? It was late, too late. How late? I’d
have to get a clock. Where was the Butterfly?
morning, my heart all worn out, I heard the trellis shake, then a
little sound. I got up and quickly lifted the window and spoke
through the torn screen.
turned on the trellis, among the yellow roses.
all right,” she said.
“Yes.” She clung to the thin redwood
“I’m glad you’re back,”
I said. “Come talk to me tomorrow, if you want. Careful.”
And then she moved upward
through the dark sleeping roses.
The next day Kate was
lovely and bursting, mind and body, full of answers that bred
As she held her sandals and hurried
barefoot back across the dewed lawn, each grass blade was sharp
and cool and sweetly bitter, like little swords against the soles
of her feet. It had all happened, just happened, naturally, as if
she and Eddie had played parts in a play, except it was real.
Real was better than make-believe.
But then they had
already loved each other in their dreams, they’d told each
It was all one world, a seamless garment of
She’d climbed the trellis and when her lips
brushed a yellow rose she’d kissed it. The roses were
loving and alive, everything was alive and she’d never
really known. Didn’t anyone else know? Why didn’t
they say anything? This was reality, the way things really were.
It made her so happy she began to cry.
“You need to
read Plato,” I said and smiled, “about the shadows
and the cave.”
“I will,” Kate said. “I
want to know.”
That evening a dove landed and cooed
from the elm as if it spoke and I had composed a poem for Kate,
“A Mourning Dove Recalls A Place,” swiftly taking
down the words to the song among the silent leaves.
summer night dove’s song recalls
place by quiet waterfall—
grass and water sing love’s name
new as springtime, old as rain . . . .
“You’re a poet!”
am,” I said, “you’re the poem . . . .”
Green eyes reflected green eyes, like living matching
statues our lips formed the same smile of relief and recognition.
Kate began visiting every day after breakfast, slipping
in when Kyla washed the dishes.
She remained innocent,
naive, without confidence. She didn’t even know she was
gorgeous, obsessed with the little mark on her chin, as if some
scar could harm her beauty instead of heighten it, be a visible
sign that all good was an overcoming of suffering.
was bright but she knew almost nothing of politics or the
nightmare of history.
“You’re going to
college this fall?”
“Kings River, or Fresno
City, for two years. I got accepted at Stanford but we don’t
have the money. I didn’t get a scholarship.”
as well. You know he was governor, he owned the Central Pacific.
Crooked as a stick, rigging the freight charges on the wheat
farmers. Mussel Slough? Anyway, you don’t want to study in
the Reagan Library, next to that phallic Hoover Tower.”
“The Golden Spike’s in the basement, in a
safe with a window.”
put it through his heart. You know, in Utah, where the two tracks
met, Stanford swung and missed.”
I explained to
Kate the history of the Valley, how the wheat farmers had fought
the railroad’s hired guns at the Slough over by Laton, then
about Maggie Rucker, the San Joaquin’s Calamity Jane or
Annie Oakley. Maggie had started the Valley’s first
creamery just down the road at Dry Creek.
On her other,
secret ranch, up by Badger, she’d hid Sontag and Evans,
after Circle Corral and their shoot-out with the railroad’s
I told her about the farmers turned train robbers
running in the mountains, staying with the poor homesteaders who
had the pet bear, later with the Indians. After they were
captured, they’d broken out of jail in Fresno and stolen a
team of horses.
The trial hinged on whether they could
make it down to Acacia in time to rob the train, hide the gold,
then get back and lock themselves in before the deputy came back
Could two horses with a wagon run that fast?
Had Chris Evans’ loyal daughter sneaked them the keys?
the salt grass between Goshen and New Lund, $5,000 in gold coin
robbed from Leland Stanford’s Central Pacific train lay
buried. All the men with their divining rods and metal detectors
had failed to find it, just like they’d never found
mention the jealous phone calls from Sally Stanford, San
Francisco’s reigning “Queen of Pleasure,” over
the Governor’s passionate preference for me, which Stanford
had diplomatically left out of her memoir, The Lady of the House.
Her real name was Mable Busby, she’d changed it because of
her admiration for the Palo Alto football team.)
always, at the end, after Kate told about Eddie, I spoke of my
love for Ramon.
Ramon Zapata looked just like Aaron’s
oil portrait of Murrietta that had hung above my carved bed in
San Francisco, if I hadn’t known better I’d have
sworn he was Joaquin come back to life, to reclaim his treasure
and lost love Belle Solar—
Señorita,” Ramon used to say, “Good luck,
From the driver’s seat, at the
beach at Pacific Grove with Aaron and I in the back of the long
silver Rolls, Ramon had begun to sing as the Monarchs flew in
above the October waves:
“Mariposa, Mariposa, donde
es mi esposa linda, linda como tu, Mariposa?
Butterfly, where is my pretty wife, pretty as you, Butterfly?”
That was before Dr. Bolger arrived, with his leather bag
of needles and inks . . . .
In return, Kate brought her
clippings from the paper and through hot July we counted off the
days until the Democratic convention in San Francisco, then
cheered and hugged one another when Ferraro was presented as the
“‘A mighty woman with a torch,’”
I quoted from Emma Lazarus, “‘Whose flame is the
imprisoned lightning, / And her name, Mother of Exiles.’”
“You knew,” Kate smiled, radiant. “You
knew all along!”
It was such an important,
historic day, I was grateful to share it with Kate and Ferraro
and all the women whose hearts I could feel beating in my breast.
Mother. Daughter. Holy Sister Ghost.
did you know she was the Gold Lady?”
her, the morning of the night I almost died. May Eve. In Acacia.
She brought light.”
During the tribute to
Eleanor Roosevelt, I reminisced about FDR and how much I had
loved Mrs. Roosevelt.
“‘It’s better to
light one candle than to curse the darkness.’”
Eleanor had worn a candle on her helmet when she
descended deep into the ground with the coal miners in Kentucky.
Franklin hurt her badly, taking a mistress.
If you did
some good, did you have to do some bad? I wondered.
Truman, Adlai, JFK, Martin Luther King. Lincoln. All the dead
were mentioned, their spirits felt suddenly close and I
remembered Joaquin Murrietta’s tender kiss.
I murmured, “oh my God, some day.”
There was talk of an upset victory, like
“Give-’em-Hell” Harry’s over Dewey.
my joy I was tempted to show Kate the Butterfly, but not yet, I
wanted to wait for just the right moment.
the velvet spangled with the diamonds from under the flat stone
at Cantua Creek—Aaron put Ramon in the trance and again he
was Joaquin and galloped with Three-Finger Jack to escape Captain
Love’s murderous posse—
I’d tell my
amazing story and then slip from the purple dress . . . .
week later at the Olympics, in the City of the Angels, Pearl
Bailey led the crowd in singing “When the Saints Come
Marching In” and Rafer Johnson the decathlon champion ran
up the stairs to light the flame with the torch from Greece—
And after that Kate hadn’t come to visit or left
the house to meet her true love . . . .