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Calliope
The Novel
By
Heather B Jackson
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Chapter 1- The Bongo
She woke up with the word Calliope on the tip of her tongue. It turned like taffy in her
mouth, musical notes she said in a whisper, then louder before her eyes opened com-
pletely. The room was filled with a milky sunlight that made everything feel wrapped in
gauze. She couldn't remember when she fell asleep. She went over the past twenty four
hours in her mind and she couldn't remember much in the half sleep of the day before.
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She knew this was the product of exhaustion. The exhaustion and a sort of low-grade
depression had been stealing away her mind. She was unusually forgetful, her mind di-
vided between so many different preoccupations. This was the aging her mother used to
talk about when she was a child, complaining in a way that Hadley always thought was
so annoying and silly.
Animals needed to be fed. She rubbed the corners of her eyes and pulled herself
from between the sheets. Coffee would help. The sunlight made the room deceivingly
warm. But the temperature had dropped overnight. As she made her way across the
large bare bedroom, a chill slipped up her nightshirt. She grabbed a thin Mexican blan-
ket from the one chair in the room and wrapped it over her shoulders as she entered the
kitchen.
There was a short hall from the main bedroom to the kitchen and the main rooms of
the farm house. It was an old place. Simon said the core rooms of the building probably
dated from the early 1900’s or even earlier. The main bedroom where they slept was a
recent addition. The previous owner invested in a modest remodel a year before Simon
bought the place. It mostly consisted of refinishing original hardwoods and making the
kitchen, dining and living room all one open living space anchored by a large fireplace
and a bar made from old barn wood. The bones of the house were exquisite. polished
pine framed the white plaster walls. Curious artifacts from Simon’s business travels
peppered the walls. On one wall was a display of three large animal inspired masks.
When Hadley asked their origins, Simon’s answer was vague, “African”, as if a more
specific answer carried with it more specific memories, most of which were better
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avoided. Above the mantle was a large black and white photograph of Simon among the
ruins of a Cambodian temple draped with the roots of ancient trees. He was a younger
man in the picture, thick curls of blond hair and a thin goatee that looked like an effort to
grow. He wore a t-shirt and sandals as if he planned on attending a jam band show like
Phish or Wide Spread Panic. His smile in the picture was triumphant. He knew how to
talk his way into anywhere.
When Hadley asked about the photograph, Simon spoke more soberly. He never
traveled much as a child but loved reading the stack of National Geographics his father
kept by the toilet in his parents’ bathroom. He said as a young boy, he would sit for
hours on the seat of that toilet pouring through the pages of exotic places and people.
He said one issue in particular stuck out in his mind. It had an article about the Khmer
Rouge and the number of skulls found in the “Killing Fields” was unimaginable to him.
When he graduated from college, he took a year and traveled East, finding odd jobs and
interesting friends to support his journey across the globe, all the time searching for the
photographs from those National Geographics. When he arrived in Cambodia, he said it
wasn’t the monumental death of the Khmer Rouge that impressed him in person, it was
the temples. The temple at Ta Prohm was his favorite.
Apparently that international trip mushroomed into many future trips and adventures
around the globe which eventually led to some form of business network of friends and
goods and currencies that was now its own economy. When Hadley met Simon in a
small bar in Thailand, he still had that triumphant smile from the photograph but the glint
in his eye was less jam band exuberance and more cunning strategist. His loneliness
was more of an anxiety than a sense of sadness. His lithe body and striking jaw bit into
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the air around him. He was intense and intoxicating in a way that Hadley knew immedi-
ately was dangerous. But the discovery of a common hometown and accent, and a few
glasses of Japanese scotch, made the danger seem more familiar and necessary.
Hadley let herself get too drunk on purpose and the abandon became inevitable. She
fell for him in that Thai bar, quite literally, finding herself asleep the next morning on the
floor of a mid level hotel room, a towel as a pillow beneath her head presumably damp
with drool. He wiped away her embarrassment with an invite for breakfast tea and
somehow that led to another dinner date and eventually a shared hotel room. She
worked hard at not getting too attached, traveling independently to photograph wildlife
and temples while Simon met with business contacts during the day. Each morning she
left their shared hotel room, she said she might not return. Simon ignored her with the
wave of a hand. When she returned in the evening, she would find a hand-written note
by her pillow, formally requesting her company at a nearby bar or restaurant. This ritual
went on for two weeks until one evening, Hadley returned to the room and the note said
simply, “Left for Laos. Call me when you get back to the States. With Love, Simon.”
Hadley drank half a bottle of Japanese scotch and cried herself to sleep that night.
When she woke up the next morning she swore she would never be so stupid again to
believe in long term international romance. But when she returned to Atlanta a month
later, all she could think about was the possibility that Simon actually lived only three
hours away, just outside her hometown of Birmingham. She found a phone number on-
line that actually worked. She left a message and two weeks later, she received a return
message. Simon would be in Atlanta to catch a flight out of the country but would come
into town a few hours early if they could meet up. They met in a Starbucks off of I-20,
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ended up making love in the back seat of his Suburban and vowed to never sleep apart
after his return from the business trip. He returned a week later and Hadley packed the
few belongings she held precious into the back of her Honda and followed him to the
farm.
Hadley fumbled through the cabinet looking for coffee, knocking jars of spices and
small packages of rice to the counter before she remembered Simon always kept the
coffee in the freezer. The sound of the grinder crushing coffee beans cracked through
the silence of the room. Hadley’s aloneness was palpable in the sudden silence after
each step making coffee. She had been on the farm for a month now. Simon took care
of everything when he was there. He was an early riser, always making coffee before
Hadley was awake. In the morning he sat on the white cloth sofa working on his laptop
until 7:30 or 8:00 and then disappeared out onto the farm to take care of the collection
of animals housed in cages, paddocks and small sheds. The animals were the first big
surprise of the move into Simon’s life.
On the corner of the bar sat the the notepad where Simon detailed directions for
Hadley about taking care of the farm while he was away. The notes were written in pen-
cil in a tight script that reminded Hadley of an architect or engineer's writing. The writing
was linear, precise and hurried. The note began with an endearment.
“Sweet Hadley, please watch over the Ark while I am away.”
The note listed an inventory of creatures large and small, shy and terrifying. The List
brought the magnitude of Simon’s enterprise into acute perspective. He was not kidding
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about “The Ark”. He was collecting creatures two by two, housing them in various pens
and paddocks in anticipation of what? A freaking flood?
Hadley tried to be rational about the farm. She knew Simon knew how she loved an-
imals. In Thailand he suggested various animal sanctuaries for her to visit and photo-
graph. But she saw the way he spoke shyly about the purpose of the farm. It was a
partnership venture, conservation was a word he used liberally when he spoke of the
collection. He and his partner were interested in “increasing numbers”, building an un-
derstanding of the role of human and animals. Simon worked hard at framing everything
he said in terms that he expected to appeal to Hadley. In short, he wanted Hadley to
approve of his collection. Maybe even admire it.
That day Hadley so quickly packed her Honda full of all her belongings and followed
Simon to the farm, Simon gave her detailed directions to make sure if separated she
could find her way. He said to make sure to turn off the main highway at the Epic Feed
and Seed onto County Road 62, a newly paved rural road that was flanked on each side
by rolling cattle farms and horse farms with tidy fences and nicely manicured trees. He
then said to turn off onto a less maintained road called Furnace Road. It would turn
back towards the river. He said this road would eventually turn into a dirt road and there
would be a sign marking the beginning of the land on which he lived. He said she would
recognize she was in the right place because of the pine trees. It was timberland and
the pine trees were planted in perfect rows. A ‘good growth’ he called it. He explained
this meant the trees were nearly 20 years old and the paths between the trees were
large enough for a small truck to pass unencumbered. There was also a chain-link
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fence. Simon said it was around 6 feet tall and surrounded the farm. He said there were
electric wires that ran through the fence. This kept predators out, Simon's exact words.
In the back of Hadley's mind that day, she had the sense that he was trying to prepare
her for something. Maybe he was just trying to make her suspend her judgment when
she saw all of those captive animals in one place. Maybe he was trying to prepare a pic-
ture in her mind to explain things in case he wasn't there. Whatever the motivation,
Hadley felt he was placing each piece of information in her mind in a particular way. She
tried to wipe the uneasy feeling from her mind. She was truly, madly in love with the
man of her dreams. She was starting to think that she could make herself believe that if
she drove a car 100 miles an hour off a cliff, it would fly.
The French press coffee maker was set out not far from the note of directions about
the animals. As Hadley prepared her coffee she reflected on all that happened over the
past few days, months. She remembered the impact of first seeing that imposing chain-
link fence on the perimeter of the soft shadows of the pine forest. She remembered
turning off the main dirt road on to a more narrow and roughly kept dirt road that winded
through a swampy area and began up another hill thick with tree growth on both sides.
At the top of the hill the drive circled a nice open yard with a small orchard of fruit trees,
mostly pear. The farmhouse, with its wide front porch sat like a smiling face at the crest
of the hill. The land gradually opened up into pasture behind the farmhouse and rolled
down towards the river. About 200 yards to the right of the Blackfoot of the farmhouse
was the edge of the planted pine grove. A small complex of buildings, a couple of old
barns and a newer concrete barn huddled against the trees. The buildings were con-
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nected by heavy-duty wire fencing that gave an impression of a prison yard. At one end
of the old barn was a gate. Field fence divided off the pasture and stretched from the
barn along a barely visible dirt drive and down to the river. The dirt track ran the length
of the left side of the field where an old growth of oak trees marked the beginning of a
dense forest of hardwoods that appeared impenetrable from a distance.
Hadley arrived that first day in the late afternoon. The sun was setting in behind her
as she looked out over the back pasture. A winter pink glow fell across the field and
buildings. At the far end of the field was a shadowed chasm where the banks dropped
down to the river. It was a southern winter sunset, marked by a black arrow of geese
honking across candy colored clouds. The pasture was a dusty yellow and the pine
trees were more gold than green. She imagined horses or cows curiously poking their
heads from the sheds. Instead, the shadows that appeared from the doorways of the
barn were more lumpy and spiked. She peered closer trying to discern what was there.
Simon pulled her back up to the farm house. He had wine and steaks. He wanted to
cook for her and tomorrow he'd show her the animals. Her curiosity was peaked by the
peculiar shadows, but Simon could be very persuasive. She knew she wasn’t leaving
anytime soon. There would be plenty of opportunity to explore his menagerie.
Now, Hadley scanned the note beside her brewing coffee with a wry smile on her
lips. Simon orchestrated everything with such purpose. The order of animals on the
page was the order by which she was supposed to feed. It began with the emu and os-
triches, her least favorite of the collection. (That first day she had gone with Simon to
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feed the animals, the size of the flightless birds had completely intimidated her. She
could think of nothing more terrifying than being trapped in a pen with those ornery, gi-
ant chickens.) The emu lived in a short dirt run between the pine forest and the barns.
After the birds, there was a short list of fruit-eating primates that lived in a variety of
medium-sized cages between the bird sheds and the barn. This included a pair of
kinkajous, an owl monkey and a pair of breeder capuchins. The cages were covered
with tarps to protect the animals from the weather but when Hadley saw the dull -look in
the creature’s eyes, she told Simon that the entire set up seemed inadequate. Simon
assured her it was only temporary. There was a bigger plan, he kept saying. Hadley
knew it was an unhappy incarceration punctuated by frenzied excitement for overripe
fruit.
The gravel path past the monkey cages led to the old barn. The heavy doors slid
open on rusty tracks to reveal a modestly maintained hall of stalls, some of which
opened into the pasture. The animals that had free access to the barn and field were a
couple of dromedary breeders, a juvenile Bactrian camel, two breeder zebras and a
black alpaca named Ralph. To the right side of the hall was the newest additions to the
collection, an older female wildebeest, a pair of breeder elk and a young female bongo.
As soon as Hadley saw the Bongo, she was attached. Simon said it had been bottle
raised, and when she approached it's stall, the shiny chestnut ungulate with budding
horns rose from sleeping in a corner of the stall, hungry to be fed. She wondered if the
creature was lonely in its stall, if it craved for the forest it had never seen. Simon warned
Hadley not to enter the stalls when she fed the elk or the wildebeest. She tossed the
bright green flakes of alfalfa across the stall door. They were wild animals with sharp,
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deadly horns, exotic manes and otherworldly profiles. But the bongo was the animal that
held her attention the most. The bongo seemed so innocent and domesticated at first
glance. Simon estimated she was around six months old with dramatic broad ears and a
wet nose that looked like any other domesticated calf’s. She was a brilliant copper color
with signature thin white stripes broadly spaced along her back. Hadley counted fifteen
stripes. When Hadley opened the latch to the stall doors the bongo’s ears flicked for-
ward and she shyly stepped forward. The other animals shied away at the slightest
quick movement, the bongo was different. She had never known anything but kind hu-
man touch and although she never moved assertively towards a human, she was al-
ways inquisitive.
The first day that Simon showed her the animals, Hadley was in awe of the variety,
the purpose and the mystery. Simon explained to her, he had an investment partner that
owned land on both sides of the river. There was a plan for a preserve. He kept the de-
tails vague, his face growing a little dark and his tone more patronizing when Hadley
steered the conversation towards too many specifics. He emphasized how there would
be great photographic opportunities, travel as they expanded the collection, the real life
experience of breeding and raising such a variety of animals. He kept saying, over and
over, it all was just so perfect.
And Hadley wanted to believe every word.
But after Hadley arrived on the farm, Simon only stayed in town for two weeks.
Those two weeks were a blur of shopping for gourmet meals at the new organic gro-
ceries in Birmingham, bottles of wine carried out of the store by the case, dinners of
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grilled meats while sitting on the back porch, and four-wheeler adventures through the
pine forest that often included high speed, hair-raising chases, near crashes and naked
bodies on a bed of pine needles. For two weeks, Hadley never caught her breath,
thought about any decision, or imagined any consequence. Simon was a master of
carpe diem and the experience of it all was the only thing that mattered.
In thinking back, Hadley couldn’t remember a moment during those first two weeks
when she wondered where it was all going. Simon avoided any subject that dwelled on
the present or future and this suited Hadley’s need to avoid conflict and subvert chal-
lenge. She was overly analytical by nature, and too many dollars in therapy, too many
failed career paths, and a long list of botched relationships were easy holes to fall into,
talk about and repeat. Simon did not care about her past. He had traveled the edges of
the planet and knew, there was little that couldn’t be forgiven or forgotten.
Something changed the night that Hadley heard her first lion roar. Simon had gone
out of town for two days on business. When he returned the night before, he seemed
preoccupied and distant. Hadley tried to ignore the mood shift and cooked a lasagna
dinner in hopes that comfort food might work some magic. The meal had worked its
magic on her and she went to bed early, Meanwhile, Simon barely finished his salads
and spent the evening drinking several snifters of brandy. Around three or four in the
morning the heart-stopping cry came into her dreams as if a big cat was in the bed be-
side her. The night was cold, blankets wrapped thickly around her head but the sound
pierced her so that she sat straight up from her dream. The chill of being naked in a
farmhouse without central heat was nothing compared to the chill down her spine. Si-
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mon was not in the bed. She heard the roar a second time and quickly wrapped herself
in blankets and headed to the window.
A mid-sized truck with a camper over the bed sat in the driveway. Headlights shined
like two bright beacons towards the compound of animal buildings. As Hadley stood at
the window, she watched the tall, athletic figure of Simon shut the tailgate of the truck
and direct it down the dirt drive along the edge of the field towards the depths of the
hardwood forest. The truck lights passed along the edge of the field and disappeared
into a passage between the trees. Simon turned back toward the house in the moon-
light, and Hadley quickly returned to bed. She was instinctively afraid of being caught
watching. She pulled the down comforter around her shoulders and closed her eyes
tightly, every inch of her skin awake and ears listening. Simon stepped into the room
quietly like a shadow, slipped out of his pants and shirt and lay down beside her. He lay
on his back a moment. She could feel his drunkenness swimming beside her. Then he
turned and pulled close against her as if the cold night made him hungry for her body’s
warmth. He pressed his cool flesh against her back and tucked his knees between her
thighs. Hadley pretended to be asleep, working hard at making her body seem sedated.
His icy fingers reached between her arms, clutched her breasts like an animal seeking
warmth in a nook of sunbathed rocks. She folded against him, her sight bright beneath
tightly shut eyes.
The first sip of coffee scalded Hadley's tongue and she realized she was getting lost
in the wandering of her mind. She folded the note with directions into a perfect square.
She returned to the bedroom to pull on a pair of blue Jeans and an oversized flannel
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shirt. As she was pulling on her muck boots she heard knock at the front door. She froze
with fear. Simon had not mentioned any potential visitors. Hadley wondered if she
should grab the shotgun from the closet where Simon showed her he kept it. She
walked over to the window that overlooked the driveway. There were no vehicles in the
driveway. In spite of not really knowing how to shoot the shotgun she grabbed it from
the closet and went to the door. She cracked the door and peered out.
Standing on the porch looking out across the front orchard was a young woman in
her late 20s. Her hair was curly black with dyed light blue streaks that framed her face.
She wore tight jeans tucked into a pair of green cowboy boots that had seen their share
of mud. A long shearling vest draped over her blue denim shirt. She stood with her left
arm propped on her hip as if she might have somewhere to be. Her arm was decorated
with an array of leather bracelets adorned with beads and bone. When she turned to
face her, Hadley noticed a tattoo of a swallow barely visible beneath the collar of her
denim shirt. She was a mix of redneck punk and medicine woman fashion. Behind her,
standing ground tied, was a woolly small horse in a rawhide bosal and a cheap western
saddle.
When Hadley opened the door completely, the girl laughed out loud at the shotgun
awkwardly slung at Haldey’s side.
“Were you about to shoot me?”
Hadley shrugged.
The young woman’s face sobered.
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“Hadley, right?” She held out her hand to introduce herself, “I’m Destiny Jones. Si-
mon told me to come see you. He said it was all right if I keep my horse with the camels
as long as I helped you while he was away.”
Hadley noticed the young woman peered beyond her into the house as if she were
looking for something.
“I know all about the animals. Animal training is my gift. I help Simon off and on when
Lobo’s busy.”
Simon never mentioned Destiny before. Lobo was the young Mexican guy that Si-
mon introduced her to last Monday as they were leaving. He said he was repairing a
fence in the woods. He never explained that Lobo was regular help. Hadley realized that
she had not been asking enough questions if she was going to be left to take care of the
farm.
“He still have that bobcat thing down in the concrete barn?”
“The bobcat?”
“Something like that... Couple of babies?”
“You mean the serval?”
“Yeah I knew it had another name.”
“She’s there. And a pair of foxes. But no babies.”
“He still feeding them cat food?”
“Not exactly. Why don’t you meet me at the barn in just a minute. I need to put this
thing up.”
Hadley shook the shotgun at her side.
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“Yeah, sounds good,” Destiny looked sideways at the gun and then stepped down
the stairs. Her horse raised his head attentively as she approached it. Maybe it would
be good to have someone familiar with the animals around to help. Maybe she could
answer some questions about the farm that had been hard to ask Simon.
Alone again inside the house, Hadley looked for her phone. She found it beside the
bed and remembered that Simon had called just after she went to bed. She vaguely re-
membered him saying he would be at an auction that day, but she tried to call him any-
way. The call went straight to voicemail. She would have to assume that everything that
Destiny said was true. She promised herself that when Simon got back she would ask
more questions, insist on more answers. She reminded herself that avoiding confronta-
tion had never worked in past relationships, only postponed the inevitable. She needed
to be more assertive. She needed to know about the lion.
When Hadley got down to the barns, she saw that Destiny had already thrown corn
to the birds and was cutting up bruised apples for the kinkajous and monkeys. She
talked sweetly to the animals as she handed them pieces of fruit. The kinkajous furtively
grabbed the apple with their sharp claws and gnawed at each piece showing sharp ca-
nine teeth that made Hadley wary of getting too close. The capuchin monkeys climbed
up their cages to reach out for a share of the apple. Destiny talked to them as if it were
a class of kindergarteners at snack time, she rubbed their arms as they took the fruit
and chided them for snatching.
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“Last time I was here, Simon said he thought the girl kinkajou was pregnant. She
have her babies?”
Hadley was embarrassed that she did not know the answer. She shrugged.
Destiny peered into the cage a little closer.
“If she’s smart she won’t get pregnant.”
Hadley felt like Destiny was talking about a teenage girl who was considering birth
control options. She studied her waiting for an explanation. Destiny held up a peeled
brown banana that the kinkajou took delicately into her smooth palm.
“What do you mean?” Hadley finally asked.
“I don’t know if they get it, but when they take the babies away to bottle feed them, I
just always feel so awful for them. The mamas cry out so and how can they know if that
baby’s gonna be cared for. Just bothers me. I have a hard time when they wean cows
and horses too. I could never imagine someone taking my child from me.”
Hadley did not want to admit her ignorance to this stranger. She had not considered
what they did with the babies. She assumed all the animals born on the farm were
raised by the parents.
“I'm sure Simon would have called me to help bottle feed them. That’s how we met,
you know. I was getting feed for my chickens and overheard him asking about feed for
exotics. I started asking him a bunch of questions about his animals and he invited me
to the farm. He had a baby monkey he needed help bottle feeding for a few days. He
said he would pay pretty good if I would come several times a day and bottle feed it. I
needed the money… Long story. Anyway, after two weeks he said he had a buyer and
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the little guy disappeared. I don’t know what happened to the mama. Sure he sold her.
Anyway, I’ve fed a few babies of his.”
The conversation trailed off as Destiny finished handing out the fruit. Hadley walked
towards the barn trying to think through all that the young woman was saying, and not
saying. She felt a tightness in her throat as if she was getting sick but she knew it was a
twinge of bitterness. She hated being the last to know something. She began imagining
all the baby animals on the farm, alone and desperately waiting for a bottle. She imag-
ined her baby bongo forlorn and heartbroken in the corner of its stall. She hurried to the
barns to console it.
The various animals rustled in their stalls at the sound of her approach. Destiny’s
horse was unsaddled and munching alfalfa from the open bale in the aisle of the barn.
The camels and llama were crowded in the nearest open stall, necks extended to try to
reach the bale. The scene annoyed Hadley. That alfalfa was for the camels not the
horse. She grabbed the remaining bale and split a couple flakes between the stall with
the camels and wildebeest. The remainder she carried to the stall where her bongo
stayed. She opened the latch and dropped the hay in the nearest corner. But when she
looked up she realized the stall was empty. She retraced her steps past the other stalls
to see if she had missed it. All of the other animals were in their stalls, just like the order
on the note. All except the young bongo calf. Hadley checked the other side of the barn
again to see if possibly the animal had accidentally gotten out with the camels. Destiny
entered the barn as Hadley passed from stall to stall, sure that she had just overlooked
it.
“What’s wrong?”
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“The bongo isn’t in her stall. She couldn’t have gotten out…”
Destiny wrapped a lead rope around her horse's neck and led it nonchalantly to a
stall open to the outside.
“I'm sure Simon took her to the auction. He probably knew he had a buyer, knew you
were attached and decided the best thing was not to mention it.”
Hadley looked at Destiny dumbfounded. Surely this young redneck, punk, pseudo
medicine woman, probably crystal meth addict had no idea what she was talking about.
Destiny looked back at her without expression.
“For somebody who seems to have moved in, sure seems like you don’t know a lot
about who you’ve moved in with.”
Hadley had no idea what to say to Destiny. She turned away from her in an attempt
to hide any emotion.
“Seems like you know how to feed everyone. I need to go back to the house. I sup-
pose I'll see you tomorrow.?”
Destiny grumbled agreement, but before Hadley could get out the door, she spoke
up again,
“You mind giving me a ride home. My husband’s got the car today and I didn’t have
another way to get my horse over here except ride him. Just fifteen minutes back to-
wards the interstate.”
Hadley turned to look at the girl. In that moment, she seemed less like an adult and
more like an overgrown kid playing dress up at the zoo. Destiny was at Hadley’s mercy
as much as Hadley had felt at hers. Quickly she realized she needed to make this
friendship work, for lots of reasons.
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“Yeah, just come up to the house when you’re ready.”
Hadley returned to the house desperate to gather her thoughts. She sat down at the
bar and finished off the pot of coffee and started another. She was jittery with caffeine
when Destiny knocked on the door again. Hadley poured herself a fresh cup and met
Destiny on the porch. There was something about letting her into the house that was
just too much for Hadley at the moment.
Hadley climbed into the car spilling hot coffee across her knees. Destiny waited for
her to unlock her door. Hadley’s mood was worsening and she felt like she couldn't help
it. Destiny sensed the tension and kept quiet.
It wasn't until the main country road when Hadley spoke up,
“Did you feed the cats and Fox?”
“Yeah there was a bowl of chopped up… Looked like chicken and I divided it be-
tween them all. I looked and it seems there's quite a bit of red meat in the fridge. Are
there more cats?”
It took Hadley a long time to answer this question. Finally she said, “ I don't know.”
The only word spoken on the rest of the drive were directions from Destiny about
turns to her house. It was a maze of country roads and cotton fields before they came to
a church with a disassembled playground beside it.
“It's here,” said Destiny.
Hadley pulled into the driveway. There were no signs or distinguishing features to the
church. It was a simple one room church with double doors and a short porch for an en-
trance. A crooked cross on the steeple was the only indication that it was once a house
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of worship. Behind the disassembled playground equipment, Hadley could see a
makeshift shed, a one wire electric fence and a mud hole where she assumed Destiny’s
horse once lived.
“What does your husband do for a living?”
Curiosity got the best of Hadley.
The question caught Destiny by surprise. She was lost in her own thoughts.
“He's retired from the Army. He served in Afghanistan. It's my parents’ church if
you’re wondering. They bought it to have events and weddings. We needed a place to
live when Kyle left the Army. They offered it. Kinda cool, I guess, to live in a church. Not
sure it's brought us any closer to God though. I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks.”
With that the young woman climbed out of the car and strolled towards the entrance
to the church, picking up toy guns and trash along her path. Hadley watched her and
was suddenly struck with a need to photograph the moment. She hadn’t been inspired
to take a single photograph since her arrival on the farm. The urge felt good and in a
small way she was grateful for the strange woman to whom she now seemed bound.
Simon called on her drive back to the farm. She was angry with him but she didn’t
know how to bring it up. He started the conversation talking about missing her, how he
would be in Florida for another couple nights, but how he had a surprise for her when he
got back. She followed the conversation without saying much. Finally, Simon stopped
his monologue.
“What happened to the bongo?” Hadley abruptly asked.
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“Oh, I forgot to mention in the note that I took her. I hope you weren’t worried. I need
an older female. A guy from Texas wanted her and he was at the sale. I should have told
you…”
Hadley did not want to mention her attachment.
“I thought someone might have stolen her,” she lied.
“Ha, no one is going to come on that property.”
“Destiny brought her horse over. She said she’d talked to you about it.”
Someone was talking to Simon in the background.
“Oh… Yeah. I thought you’d appreciate her company. She’s a good girl. Hey, I gotta
run. Lobo will be around the farm doing some work. If you need something, let him
know.”
Hadley missed Simon’s company, his buoyancy in any situation. She wished he
would share more about what he was doing and thinking, but she understood it just
wasn't his nature. She told herself she shouldn't care that the bongo was gone. She told
herself that the only secrets on the farm were those of her imagination.
Hadley checked water in the troughs when she returned to the farm. The camels,
llama and horse were out in the field, dark silhouettes against the golden grass. She
avoided the empty stall where the bongo had once been. She refilled the water in the
other stalls. The pair of oryx stood at the back of the stall in a tight formation of long
horns and heavy shoulders. The ringed horns were a startling length of almost 3 feet
and Hadley wondered how they managed not to get them hung in the door and window.
22
Hadley wondered when Simon intended to let them out in the field. They seemed very
unproductive, huddled in their stall, warily awaiting an uncertain fate.
Once the animals were watered, Hadley returned to the house. The sky was cloud-
ing up and the wind cut into the thin sweater she wore over her turtle neck. She was
eager to get inside and wrap up in a blanket on the couch. She needed to get back to
work editing the images from her trip to Asia. She knew that the uncertainty that nagged
at her thoughts was directly related to her not working on the project that had initiated it
all. She made good excuses to herself- she needed to marinate on her ideas; there
would be plenty of time to work now that she was living with Simon; the best story to tell
wasn’t apparent yet. Regardless of the rationale, the truth was she was much better at
distraction than completion. It was a personal battle that haunted her. She hated to ad-
mit it.
She reheated leftovers for dinner and sat at the bar with the Mexican blanket
wrapped around her waist and knees. The temperature was dropping in the old house
and she decided to make a fire in the fireplace to keep warm. Simon kept a small stack
of wood on the porch. She stepped outside to grab a couple logs. The pitch black of the
night swallowed her as the door closed behind her. In the consuming darkness, she re-
alized the closest person was at the big house she had seen across the river, too far
away to hear anything that happened on the farm, and miles away by road from reach-
ing her if they did. Her only companions were the animals in the barn. They were all
misfits in this Deep South refuge trying to figure out a purpose or just a way to live.
And then she heard it again. A deep throated growl echoed down the river basin,
pulsed against the woods and grew into a roar. The sound repeated several times,
23
clearly coming from the direction of the hardwoods. Hadley froze as if the big cat might
hear her breathe. She knew it was impossible that the animal was nearby, but the sound
was immobilizing, as if she were undeniably the hunted. The sound stopped and all that
was left of it was the wind bending the trees. Hadley knew that it wasn’t a dream but her
heart wanted it to be a dream. She knew the sound was a sign of what was to come and
she couldn’t deny it. She took the wood back inside and built the biggest fire the hearth
could contain. She almost burned the house down.
Simon returned to the farm two days later bearing gifts of imported meats and rare
cheeses. Hadley was happy to see him. She had not slept well the past two nights. In-
stead she had tossed and turned, waiting, hoping to hear the roar again to confirm what
she knew must be true. She thought about going in search of the animal to set her mind
at ease. But she quickly realized it would only make her more anxious. She had decided
to wait until Simon’s return. At least in that way, he could explain himself and she would
not have to seem like she was sneaking around checking on things behind his back.
As soon as they set the bags of meat and cheese on the counter, Hadley embraced
Simon and searched his eyes.
“I want to know about the lion,”
Simon looked at her with puzzlement and surprise.
“I heard it in the night.”
Simon gave a short laugh that was more snort.
“I have something to show you. Remember I said I have a surprise.”
24
Simon took Hadley’s hand and lead her outside. He walked her to the back of the
suburban and opened the doors. There, in the back of the suburban where she and Si-
mon had frantically undressed in a Starbucks parking lot a month earlier, in a cage large
enough to hold a person, was a fleece wrapped lump. The fleece stirred and separated,
and an enormous, frost-white paw plowed its way from beneath the blankets. Two tufted
ears and a pair of half-opened black eyes peeked out at the bright day. Simon opened
the latch of the cage and gathered the bundle into his arms to show Hadley up close.
“I’m sorry if I upset you taking the bongo. But this… You can’t deny that a white lion
cub is pretty close to giving you a diamond.”
Hadley took the bundle from Simon’s arms. She was in shock. The cub was very
young, still trying to focus its eyes. It licked Hadley’s fingers as she rubbed them across
its fuzzy cheeks.
“He’s so young.”
“She. Yes, you are going to have to bottle feed her for the next few months. What are
you going to call her? I like the name, Diamond.”
“Calliope is her name.”
“I like that too.”
Simon gathered a bag full of formula and baby bottles and followed Hadley into the
house to make a meal for the new baby. A few hours later he met Lobo at the Suburban
so the two of them could heave the large steel cage into the house.
25
26
Chapter 2 - Cattle
Brian counted the packages of hamburger patties as the woman slapped them
down on the checkout counter with her puffy fingers. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. She
moved on to several packages of American cheese slices. Brian noted the unlucky
number to himself. He wondered if the woman realized she was a number, a statistic-
shape, size, right down to the processed cheese- an unlucky number at that. Brian
looked down at the frozen waffles he held in his own hands.
"Brian, I'm not sure I would have taken you for an Ego-waffle kind of guy."
He thought for a second that the female voice came from his head. He turned
around to make sure. The voice came from a woman behind him pushing a cart full of
packages of red meat. The quantity of meat in her cart startled him. She had an entire
cow it seemed, carved in dinner size portions of glistening cellophane and blood. He
stared in awe at the woman trying to place her, all the while trying to reconcile the at-
tractive face, the meat and the familiarity with which she spoke to him. It was Hadley.
The realization overwhelmed him. The last time he had seen her face was in a drunken
haze twenty years before at a college party. He vaguely remembered the last image of
her, face tear streaked, disappearing into a crowd, The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979",
blaring from the speakers. Had it really been twenty years?
27
He dropped his Ego waffles on the conveyor belt and walked to her, pulling her
into his arms like a child that needed comforting. He felt them both melt a little. He held
her for an awkwardly long moment, then realized, it had been twenty years, they hardly
knew each other. He stepped back from their embrace a little embarrassed. But Hadley
was Hadley, he knew as he looked down at her, she would always love him. She smiled.
"Who knew we would meet again? Over a trunk full of carne." Her smile was wry
and complex. Twenty years was a lifetime.
Brian realized the cashier was waiting on his payment for the waffles. She was
bug-eyed and sour behind a pair of glasses too large for her face.
"Cash or charge?"
Brian flashed his credit card and the woman shoved a bright blue painted nail at
the card reader in front of him. It felt instantly like a battle. His mood pitched into annoy-
ance and awkward self conscience. He hated people most of the time. Himself almost
all of the time.
He gathered his plastic bag of waffles and stood at the end of the checkout
counter. Hadley was placing the meat on the conveyor with slow, calculating swings be-
tween the basket and the counter. Brian and the cashier watched with shared awe. It
would have been cheaper to buy the cow and butcher it. Hadley looked up at them from
her armful of ribeyes.
"I don't eat all of this red meat if you're wondering."
Brian shook his head, "Are you feeding an army?"
"Something like that."
28
Brian realized Hadley was uncomfortable discussing it further. He turned away
from the counter and started to walk towards the sliding glass doors.
"Wait a minute..."
Brian stopped. This was the moment where he had a choice, make an excuse
that he had to be somewhere and walk away; or stay and chat and revisit a past that
ended abruptly, maybe bitterly for Hadley. But that was a long time ago. Back then there
was no one who knew him better. Their relationship had been one of the closest of his
life, a collection of years that started the summer before seventh grade. He could tell a
lot was different in her. Hell, a lot was different in him. He was sober for one. His drink-
ing had started around the same summer they first met. A short conversation and the
sober Brian might bewilder her. He knew he didn’t really have anything to lose. He had
just lost his “lion heart” as he liked to tell his boys when they were avoiding confronta-
tion with something they knew would change them.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Brian smiled. He resisted the urge to hug her a second time.
“I have.”
She pushed her cart of raw cow past him and he followed obediently out into the
balmy March night. There was an awkward moment of silence.
“You live near here?” Hadley innocently asked.
“In town. Mountain Brook area.”
“Ah! You’ve done well for yourself in…?”
“Law. Litigation.”
29
Brian knew what Hadley’s reaction would be before a word came out of her
mouth.
“Wow… You really sold out, huh?”
“I’m glad to see you haven’t changed much.” Brian’s voice dropped off, “And
you’re right, probably. Circumstances can dictate a lot of unexpected results.”
Hadley parked the cart against her middle-aged suburban. She opened the back
doors and began unloading the meat from the cart. Brian noticed that the back seat of
the suburban was removed and it was strangely open with a vinyl mat that covered the
entire floor. Towards the front were several fifty pound sacks of what seemed to be a
specialized animal feed.
“You live out here?” Brian asked.
“Yes. For now. Circumstances, like you say.”
“You have animals?”
“Yes. There’s plenty of space in the country.”
Hadley’s voice trailed off as if she was distracted by her thoughts. Brian could not
figure out how to bridge the awkward silence.
“It’s good to see you, Hadley.”
Hadley turned from the suburban and looked squarely into Brian’s eyes as if she
was searching for the answer to an old mystery. Her face suddenly relaxed. It was like
she returned from a distant, unreachable place refreshed.
“Honestly… meeting you here is a kind of fate. It's been too long. I’d like to catch
up. Coffee... dinner… I don’t know what kind of family obligations you have... Do you
have a business card or something?”
30
Brian reached for his wallet. In a quick flip he passed his card to Hadley. He no-
ticed her hands as she took the card, rough and square like someone who did a lot of
work with their hands. Her fingernails were short and a little dirty as if she had recently
been working in the dirt. He wanted to ask so many questions but none of them seemed
appropriate. There was something about Hadley that in spite of her same soft smile, told
him she had a lot to be wary of with him. He felt guilty, an old dirty underwear kind of
guilt that made him want to walk away.
“Call me. Twenty years will take some time to catch up on. You have children?”
Hadley shook her head and he could tell she wasn’t sure how she felt about this
subject.
“Time flies. You don’t notice until something like this...”
She pointed at Brian, and he realized neither of them felt any older than the last
time they saw one another.
“Like a time warp.”
“Yeah. It is.”
With that, Hadley slammed the back of the suburban and walked to the driver's
door.
“You’ll hear from me… Soon. Answer my call this time, ok?”
Brian followed her to her car door and helped open it.
“I will. I promise.”
You are always on my mind, but Friday things were pretty unbearable. I wasn't
sure I was going to make it without you. Mornings are usually the easiest, but Friday
31
morning began with waking up to a phone call from Marnie. She was sweet at first. A lot
like when we first were married. She asked if I was awake and I lied and said I was. Her
voice was gentle and she apologized for such an early call. She asked how I was doing.
I lied and told her everything was good. I was seduced at first into believing that the
phone call was an innocent check-in. I wasn't awake. In my half-sleep I couldn't discern
much except the sweet tone of her voice. Then she asked me if I had a busy day. Like a
knife in the back this question jolted me awake. She knows how things are right now.
Her sweet tone was fake. She was already starting the manipulation. Step one: call be-
fore daylight. Step two: cajole me into asking her to lunch. I told myself not to fall into
the trap. I tried to come up with a day full of activity but my mind was blank. I was like
two people. The person who knew what was going on and that other I have no control
of. The words left my lips before I could even comprehend what I was suggesting.
Brian’s therapist suggested he start journaling as a way to confront his addiction.
He wasn’t sure the therapist would approve of his style exactly but talking to the alcohol
like a lost friend was funny and real to him. He needed the levity. The smallest things
could feel like life or death these days.
I invited her to lunch at Vincenza’s. I think the invitation caught her off guard. It
sure caught me off guard. That was the first moment of the day that you came to mind.
Whenever I see myself as two people; the person seeing it all objectively and at a dis-
tance, and that other person that is all impulse and spontaneity; I see you with me,
putting it all together into a single being that has it all under control. My therapist says I
32
need to recognize that isn't your job. But let's face it, that's been your job for years. It's
hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
Brian typed into his laptop, saying the words under his breath. The door to his
office opened and a bright, young woman with a blond bob poked her head into the
room.
“I have the copies of those medical records for the deceased that you asked for.”
Shannon, her name took a while to come to mind, was his new assistant. Let’s
face it, he hired her because she wore a tight sweater and pencil skirt to the interview.
The other girl who interviewed was too serious and smart and wore black. He was look-
ing for fresh, new starts, he thought. But now he found Shannon’s enthusiasm shallow,
at times inappropriate and completely annoying. As if sensing her boss’s distaste,
Shannon seemed to try harder, wear brighter colors and interrupt his most intimate
thoughts. He wondered if he would feel differently if he tried to get to know her better.
He considered asking her to go with him downtown to the courthouse under the ruse of
discussing some research he needed her to do. He could use the company and he
needed to talk out loud to a real person. He was starting to lose track of the conversa-
tions he was having in his head and those he had with live bodies.
As if sensing he was about to ask her a question, Shannon remained in the
doorway with the file. He was about to bring up the trip downtown when his phone be-
gan to vibrate on his desk. Shannon wisely brought the file to him and exited, closing
the door behind her. Brian looked at the phone. He did not recognize the Georgia num-
ber. He sent the call to voicemail and picked up the copies to put in his briefcase. He
33
looked back at the phone hoping for a voicemail. There was only the missed call. He
added a few files to the briefcase, picked up his phone to walk out and the phone rang
again. It was his habit to let any number that he didn’t recognize go straight to voice-
mail. It was the same Georgia number from before. He waited to answer it then decided
to see if they would leave a voicemail after their second call. He thought it could be the
attorney for the insurance company on the wrongful death case that was calling about
depositions. He stared at the number waiting for the voicemail. On the third ring it oc-
curred to him it could be Hadley. People these days did have cell phone numbers that
originated from states other than their current residence. He tried to answer the call.
The line was dead. No voicemail. He decided to try the call back.
“I was about to give up, Brian.” It was Hadley’s voice.
Brian quickly gathered his things and walked out of the office. He didn’t want to
have a conversation with Hadley while at the office.
“I’m sorry I missed your call.” His voice was cold as if he were talking to a bother-
some client. He could hear Hadley check any emotion in her own voice.
“I am going to be downtown tomorrow to run some errands. I thought it might be
a good time to grab a coffee. Or lunch.”
“I may lose you, getting on the elevator…”
The doors to the elevator closed and Hadley’s voice broke up. By the time the
elevator doors reopened on the first floor, the phone call was dropped. Brian tried to call
back but it went straight to voicemail. He tried again. The same thing. He would have to
wait for her to call him. He walked across the dark parking deck trying to remember
34
where his car was. He was flustered and frustrated. He felt his blood pressure pulse at
his temples. He needed to talk to a friend. Possibly the friend he knew best.
Marnie didn’t want lunch at Vincenza’s, she wanted to meet at a coffee shop by
the courthouse. She was impatient, agitated. I was calm at first. My therapist has given
me these breathing exercises to practice before going into complicated situations. I did
them in my car in the parking lot before going into the coffee shop. I really thought they
were working. Then I saw her. All of these emotions started cascading through me like a
waterfall that was definitely pulling me under. She's always pretty, a delicate figure
punctuated by the perfect designer accessory. I love a woman with gold accents and
she has a helluva great taste for shoes. Her toes were painted with this pale green pol-
ish that matched her eyes. How do women think of these things? For the first few sec-
onds I was mesmerized like we were on a first date. Then she looked me in the eye and
I saw it. She smiled but there was hate like a glowing ember in her eye. My heart started
racing and I started sweating like I'd been jogging. I felt myself splintering. I tried to
breath deeper to pull it all together again, but there was no hope. I missed you terribly at
that moment. You were all I could think about and I actually think that my thinking about
you helped distract me from thinking about her thinking about me.
“We have to talk.”
What kind of opener is that? What the hell was meeting at a coffee shop about if
it wasn't to talk? It sure as hell wasn't for the sex. That had disappeared like sox in the
dryer within a year of marriage. If it weren’t for a few drunken Christmas parties, the
boys would have never seen the light of day.
35
I managed to sit down, all multiple selves analyzing, exiting, acting and reacting
in one chair at the table with her. I kept wishing I'd never answered the phone. You can
imagine what I looked like. As soon as I saw myself there with her. It got worse.
“Did you hear back from the people that were supposed to buy the lake house?
Your lawyer said that he thought you'd have everything sold by the end of last month.”
“Yeah. It's in the works. They came back after the inspection wanting all this work
done on the pier. And the roof. “
“I told you that roof needed work. What was their offer? Brian, we agreed on a
price, fixing that roof isn’t coming out of my money.”
Here we go... There is no longer any trace of gentleness in Marnie's voice. Cold
hard facts about the money, that's what she's here for. I could not stomach it really. I
wanted to at least keep the veneer of polite friendliness. But she always has this way of
scraping away that veneer, with claws like a hawk.
“People aren’t going to buy a house with a leaky roof, Marnie.”
“You are paying for that roof.”
She shook her head and looked down at her feet. The bitterness and frustration
was palpable, insurmountable. My attorney warned me against talking to her directly,
but I thought maybe, for once a conversation could be simple. I considered myself a
master negotiator. I seem to have looked over the fact that this was soon to be my ex-
wife.
36
Brian drove the entire way downtown with the phone in plain sight, hoping
Hadley would call back. But no call back. Brian’s thoughts turned to his hearing at the
courthouse. He was only minimally prepared and was hoping for a continuance on the
trial date.
He fudged his way through the afternoon. His mind drifted between casual con-
versations in the halls with other attorneys, the judge’s obvious ill health and what it
would mean for his cases, and a nagging sense that he was losing an epic battle for his
soul. He called Shannon halfway through the afternoon to see if a package had arrived,
half hoping this would be his excuse to meet her for drinks. He would drink ginger ale of
course, he told himself. No package had arrived. He drove back to the office in five
o’clock rush hour traffic. He remembered too late that he was supposed to pick up his
sons after soccer practice for a birthday dinner. He was already half an hour late, and
then pulled over for speeding at the entrance to the school. He pulled up at the soccer
fields to two sweaty, grim faced teenage boys. He was in a similar mood.
“Sorry I’m late.”
The boys climbed into the car in silence.
Mark said he needed to get home to work on a project. Alex, the little one with
the birthday said he wanted a hamburger for dinner, preferably fast food. Brian swung
through the drive-thru, picked up a couple hamburgers, then obediently dropped his
boys off at the end of the driveway that once was his own. Ten words including food or-
ders was the extent of their conversation. He sat in the car watching the boys walk up to
his old house. He saw Marnie walk to the front door to meet them. She never looked
down to his car as she let the boys in. The front door shut behind them. He waited as if
37
someone might return to the door and invite him inside. He was paralyzed. He wanted
to cry but he had forgotten how to cry years ago. His face felt numb as he mustered the
energy to shift the car into drive. The curvy dark road through his old neighborhood was
a refuge of emptiness and memories.
Twenty-three years before, as a drunk teenager, he’d sped down this same road,
lost control of his car and did three 360’s, coming to a screeching stop inches from an
oak tree, his life saved by blind fortune. That night he pulled away from the near death
accident unscathed. But it wasn’t luck or thankfulness on his mind. It was Hadley.
He remembered the night started at a music concert. Hadley was there with a
group of friends from her high school. Brian and Hadley had been friends since middle
school but rarely saw each other now that Brian went to an expensive private school in
the city. They still occasionally talked on the phone. When Brian saw her that night she
was arguing with a guy, trying to get him to leave her alone. Brian watched from a dis-
tance as the jerk kept trying to forcibly drag Hadley away from her friends. Brian saw an
opportunity to swoop in. He stepped in and grabbed her quickly by the hand. She smiled
and easily let him pull her into the crowd that danced by the stage. They thrashed
against the other bodies with shared abandon. At some point she grabbed his hand and
squeezed in appreciation. He wanted to take her home. But at some point he went to
the parking lot for drinks with a couple friends and she disappeared with her friends.
She said she would call him later. They sometimes talked at the end of a weekend
night, swapped stories of friends and chided each other about dates. He’d left the mu-
sic show early hoping to get home in time for a call from Hadley.
38
The four beers that he drank with friends in the parking lot were probably not
what impaired his judgement in the curve that night. It was the mini of tequila he shot on
a dare. At least this was the twisted reasoning that occupied his mind as he drove away
from his brush with death. He watched the speedometer and kept the car at 30 mph the
rest of the way home. He was desperate to get home before midnight, when he knew
she would call him and they would talk until he was sober.
Brian picked up his phone and dialed the Georgia number. He needed a little of
the right kind of impulsiveness and he knew she would probably answer. She answered
on the second ring. Her voice made him think she had been reading or occupied with
the same kind of distant memories.
“Hello…”
“It took me a while to call you back. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Nope.”
She was waiting for what he had to say.
He pressed on with his intentions.
“Can we meet for lunch tomorrow? I am free all afternoon.”
Was that leaving things too open ended?
“Pick a place,” she said.
They decided to meet at Billy’s, a coffee/lunch kind of place with a minimalist ur-
ban vibe and a lot of butternut squash and quinoa on the menu. It was one in the after-
noon before they could coordinate. When Brian arrived he found Hadley sitting at a
39
small table against the east wall. Her hair was pulled back in a short ponytail and she
wore a black turtleneck which made her face look more angular and serious than he
remembered. He noticed her cup of coffee was half-drunk and the milk sat on the sur-
face as if she had been sitting there for hours. She was writing in a narrow sketch book,
which she closed and slipped into her purse when she saw Brian. She stood up and
hugged him. This immediately set him more at ease and he was thankful. He wanted it
to be easy to go back and talk about life as if they were chatting on the phone at mid-
night twenty five years ago. But he had no idea how to begin. He offered to buy her
lunch and she suggested an arugula salad with walnuts, butternut squash, beets and
goat cheese. He ordered two salads and a ham and Brie on toasted brioche for them to
share. When he sat back down, Hadley started asking questions about his work. What
kind of firm? What kind of cases? Did he like it? She kept him talking about himself as if
she wanted to avoid too many questions about herself. He didn’t mind. His job was au-
tomatic, tedious but consistent. He was trained to summarize and encapsulate the facts.
He was detached from every bit of it but this was the part of his life he had a clear idea
of. Eventually the conversation left the clear waters of his profession and Hadley asked
the inevitable.
“Aren’t you married?” She asked as more of a fact than a question.
He tried to decide how much to say. He decided he had nothing to lose by being
frank with Hadley.
“I am getting divorced, just financial details left to iron out.”
He wondered if Hadley would change her manner with him now knowing that he
was in the midst of a divorce.
40
“I'm sorry,”
He thought about whether he should explain himself.
“I deserved it. I mean… I was drinking too much. Ignoring everyone I loved and
generally being an ass.”
Hadley laughed out loud, like the weather changed suddenly without warning.
“Hard to teach an old dog new tricks!”
Brian shook his head smiling.
“It worked for me for a long time, I guess.”
Their salads and sandwich were delivered to the table by a frail-looking young
man with wire-rimmed glasses. Hadley shifted the conversation to small talk about the
few mutual friends she still kept up with. She avoided asking more about the divorce as
if the elephant in the room was easy to step around. Maybe she intuitively knew the
subject was still raw and impenetrable, even for him.
Finally she let her questions die off. She picked at the chunks of beet on her
plate waiting for the inevitable questions about her own life. Brian tried to narrow in his
mind what was the most telling thing she could talk about.
“Why did you move back to Birmingham? It seemed like you were certain you
never wanted to end up in this town.”
Hadley looked up at Brian with eyes that searched his. She had a way of looking
right through to the darkest center of his thoughts. He had forgotten that penetrating
stare. It unnerved him but in a good way.
“It was an accident of circumstances.”
41
“You don’t move somewhere by accident, especially your hometown you left
twenty years ago.”
Hadley felt Brian reading her. He knew she had her reasons for meeting for
lunch. Every woman had their reasons for a meal with a man. It was time for her to
share.
“I moved back because of a man.”
“Your husband?”
“Oh, no. I met a guy several months ago, while traveling in Thailand. Ironically he
lives on a farm, just outside of Birmingham. I came back from Thailand and within a
month, moved in.”
She said it as if this was the most common thing in the world, to meet a guy in a
foreign country and then move into his house a month later. Hadley was always impul-
sive about men, part of her dangerous side that made him reluctant to ever be more
than friends.
“Well, how’s it going?” He wanted to be casual about this new information. He
told himself Hadley was sounding more and more promising as just the old friend he
remembered.
She looked into him again as if he might have a life raft he could throw her.
“I think I may have gotten myself into something.”
There it was. The reason for being there. Maybe nothing changed in people after
all. Brian was not sure whether this was the best or worst news of the day. Hadley was
looking for a potential rescue. She was checking to see if Brian was available. Just like
42
old times. She waited for him to ask more but he was not walking any further into that
trap.
“I don’t know why I said that, actually. I love him. He’s kind and doting, adventur-
ous and romantic.”
Brian smiled.
“Sounds like the perfect guy,”
Brian tried hard not to sound sarcastic but it was not working.
Hadley smiled and said,
“I know I sound crazy.”
“Well… You sound like you are trying to protect something or someone.”
Hadley contemplated this.
“Yeah, probably,” she answered. They shared a knowing smile.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Brian sounded like his therapist. He never said
things like that.
Hadley took a sip of her cold coffee. She took entirely too long to answer. Brian
realized she did not know how to start, as if whatever she was skirting around was un-
clear even to her.
“Eventually. But not right now. I’m not sure what to say. I just know it's nice to see
you again. You’ve changed but not really. I need a little perspective on things and just
being with you helps me see things more clearly.”
Brian felt the pull, like a floating pier chained to a dock, a satellite of stability, not
the real thing. But he didn’t mind it. She wanted a mirror and for a recovering addict that
had pretty much lost everything in the past year, this felt like gold.
43
Hadley did not say anything more about her circumstances. She talked a little
about the photography project she started in Asia, but did little more than describe it as
a travel guide. It was almost three in the afternoon when Brian paid for lunch and they
parted ways on the bright sidewalk outside the restaurant. Brian knew without question
that Hadley would call within the next several days to finish what she started. She had a
secret she wanted to tell only him.
I find myself sitting at the window in my studio apartment for hours, watching the
street below. Everyone has a pattern and when you sit in one place for a long time, it's
like the patterns of people weave around you in some sort of tapestry, something you
could read and understand if you could just get far enough away to see the complete
pattern. I've gotten where some sort of news station is on all the time when I am at
home. I've become obsessed with the news in your absence. That's strange, right? You
never had any connection to the news. You abhorred the news. It was a reality that you
saw both as completely manufactured and wholly unnecessary. Nothing good ever
came out of the news, you would tell me. You were right. But in your absence I can't get
enough news. It's not like I sit and drink the kool-aide from one channel. No it is like a
contest that I am drawn into. I search for the latest news, the most obscure news, the
piece of humanity that is crawling onto the world stage with a fever and an invention that
no one has ever seen before.
44
Chapter 3 - Calliope
The first week with the lion cub was unlike anything Hadley had ever experienced.
When she asked Simon about logistics, nutrition, expected care, he was his usual ca-
sual self,
“It’s all on the internet. Just search, ‘Lion Cub Care’. It’s like caring for any kind
of baby animal. A lot of feeding milk and cleaning up after them.”
Bottle feeding any type of creature, much less a two week old wild animal, was
a completely foreign concept to Hadley. She had no choice but to follow Simon’s direc-
tions. He was right, though. Her first search brought up several sites, all big cat rescues,
non-profit organizations that took care of big cats when their owners, who frequently ac-
45
quired a big cat through the exotic pet trade, could no longer handle the care. Hadley
tried to ignore the possibility that she could be the very person these rescues railed
against.
Hadley considered how to bring up the issue with Simon. She wanted to seem
grateful since the lion cub was unlike any gift she had ever received. But reading
through the home pages of the various big cat rescue sites was unsettling. She wavered
between outrage that anyone could neglect these majestic beasts, and defensive rage
that she and her cub were part of something different. But she began to realize that she
had no idea what that ‘something’ was.
The opportunity to question Simon about the cub’s future, or any of the animals
for that matter, never seemed to arise. Simon stayed perpetually busy on the farm when
he was home, and the “business trips” became more frequent. Meanwhile, Hadley
found herself consumed with the round the clock feedings of the cub. She chose to be-
lieve that they were part of a conservancy program not a fly-by-night exotic pet opera-
tion. She needed to focus on keeping the baby alive more than any potential high mind-
ed criticism from a rescue organization. Besides, everyone knew, animal rescue people
are all crazy and orthodox about their views anyway. Hadley had a more practical ap-
proach. She was performing her role in the survival of the species.
The practical approach (which she incidentally learned from the high-minded res-
cuers) involved five baby bottles with tough, red, medium sized nipples she bought from
the Epic Feed Store and were originally intended for goat kids or lambs; pounds of kit-
ten formula purchased from the pet superstore in town; a schedule of feeding every two
to four hours, cleaning the cage, weighing and worrying over demand and intake; fol-
46
lowed by routine sterilization of the the baby bottles and resupply of formula. Hadley
found herself losing track of the days and nights in an attempt to balance sleep and
feedings.
Simon seemed to enjoy her maternal work more than she was. He kept referring
to her as “the good lioness” and talked about how motherhood suited her. Hadley was
unconvinced but she found herself obsessively measuring the cub’s weight at first on a
kitchen scale and later by gently confining the cub to the bathroom scale. She also reg-
ularly groomed the cub by rubbing it's lush fur with a damp, warm towel after each feed-
ing. The distraction was complete and Hadley hardly noticed the weeks pass as the cub
quickly grew larger and more active. During these weeks of trying to be “the good li-
oness”, Hadley almost forgot about the multiplying questions that formed while Simon
was away. Simon had given her purpose, something she had not noticed she was miss-
ing until she was devoured by it.
A month after the cub arrived, Simon’s weekly business trips suddenly
stopped. A week later, the animals began arriving. Simon turned all of his attention to
the farm during the day, helping Lobo improve the barns and sheds, extend fencing and
care for the new animals that seemed to be arriving on a daily basis.
The majority of the arriving animals were ungulates. Starting in June Hadley counted
two more zebras, a pair of Aoudad sheep, two more scimitar oryx, a pair of addax, and
another wildebeest. Hadley wanted to ask Simon how and why he was acquiring the an-
imals, but her fascination with what the next trailer might reveal kept her quiet. At night,
as Hadley cradled the cub on the kitchen bar to nurse from the fat red nipple of formula,
47
Simon focused their conversation about the animals he had seen during past travels
and what they were like in the wild. He fed Hadley steak and wine beneath the stars on
the patio and described lodges and camps he had visited in Asia and Africa. This camp
had cabins on stilts over rice paddies and hippos. That lodge had a main dining room
that overlooked a savannah teaming with zebra and wildebeest. He brought up the past
as if he were enticing Hadley to potential travel they could share, but Hadley sensed
there was a more elaborate dream at work. They were acquiring enough animals to
have their own safari. One night late in June, in a drunken lioness haze, she finally
asked Simon the direct question she had been contemplating since her arrival.
“What are we doing here on this farm?” She blurted the question in the middle of Si-
mon’s dreamy reminiscence of a Botswana safari he had been on five years earlier. Her
tone was like a large rock dropped into a wishing well.
Simon looked at Hadley with a cold reality seething in his dreamy blue eyes. It satis-
fied Hadley to see Simon look into her with this sobering glance. A half-smile curled at
his lips.
“Don’t you see the potential here? We could have one of the greatest nature pre-
serves in the country. Right here, on this river. Complete with one of the most diverse
collections of wildlife ... in the world. Imagine taking a boat just upstream from the
power plant, and literally floating through a safari-like experience, seeing a variety of
wild species that no longer are sustainable in the wild. That cub in your arms is our fu-
ture!”
The sobriety in Simon’s eyes vanished. A flame of maniacal inspiration took its place.
48
“And you are going to document all of it with that camera of yours. Mark my words,
your life’s work is at your fingertips. Quite literally.”
The lion cub in her arms had fallen asleep with the bottle nipple still protruding from
her lips. Hadley rubbed the fluffy ears habitually, absentmindedly noting the strange de-
sire she felt to wet her fingertips on her tongue and smooth the whiskers that were faint-
ly glazed with milk. The clarity of Simon’s picture was unsettling. He spoke as if Hadley
was a given participant, as if she had no choice but to accept his view. But she was in
love with his confidence, his irreverence, his vision even if it was slightly fantastical.
Slightly might be an understatement.
Hadley carried the cub to its large cage in their bedroom. Simon intuitively followed,
sensing her consideration of independence.
“I think it’s time you met Frank. I have been trying to figure out the right time. But I
can see you have more questions.”
Was Frank a man or an animal, Hadley wanted to ask. Possibly the lion that Hadley
knew Simon was hiding in the woods?
“I think you will like Frank. He’s a genius and he loves thoroughbreds. You said you
always dreamed of owning a racehorse. Well Frank owns a lot of racehorses. And he
owns a lot of land. That house across the river is his. Frank practically owns this river.”
Simon’s admiration of this man, Frank, was oozing from his pores. The strangest
emotion crept into Hadley’s heart. Jealousy. Jealousy for Simon’s obvious respect and
clear adoration of this other man. Jealousy of this other man’s control over her lover’s
thoughts and time. She was vexed by the idea of sharing Simon, even though it was
obvious she had been sharing him all along.
49
“I can’t imagine anyone owning a river, Simon.”
“Just wait and see. You’ll understand soon enough.”
The lion cub awoke as Haldey settled it in the cage. She yawned, stretched and re-
configured herself in the tube of a cat jungle gym. She was almost too large for the
house cat furniture. Soon, she would be too large for the cage.
In the darkness Hadley heard a faint, repetitive beeping. She lay a while in the bed,
eyes closed, wondering if the sound was in her dream or in the house. Simon breathed
in a slow, deep rhythm beside her. He heard nothing of the beeping, but it continued like
a beacon through the otherwise silent night.
Hadley was awake now. She climbed out of the bed and tiptoed across the old pine
floor, desperate not to make a sound that would wake up Simon. She grabbed the thin
Mexican blanket in case she got cold. From the shadows of her cage, Calliope watched
her with keen night vision. The cub moved to the front of the cage anticipating Hadley’s
attention but the woman passed the cage with only a glance. She slipped through the
narrow opening of the bedroom door and into the living area.
The beeping was an alarm on Simon’s computer. It lay open on the coffee table. Ra-
tionalizing any guilt away, Hadley clicked on the alarm icon to stop the beeping. A win-
dow popped up on the computer with a message.
“Operation White Rhino a success.”
Hadley stared at the screen hoping for something more. Her mind wandered. Re-
cently she had seen a documentary on television about the future of the rhinoceros. She
knew that the horns were very valuable in Asia and had contributed to the near extinc-
50
tion of the rhinos. She could not remember if it was medicine or status for which they
were used. A chill ran through her bones. Could Simon be involved in some sort of trade
of rhino horns? Surely not. Simon was discreet about his business but he had sensitivity
and awareness of the animals and conservation. She might not know what he was up to
all the time, but her heart told her it was not as insidious as the poaching of rhino horns.
Surely “Operation White Rhino” was code for something more mundane.
Hadley swept the dark thoughts into the corners of her mind and decided to go for a
walk. She needed to get out of the house. The motherhood of the cub had stifled her
sense of adventure and exploration. The message from the computer made her acutely
aware of what she didn’t know about where she was.
It was intensely intimate to explore a place in the dark, when every sound and smell
was amplified by the lack of sight. She wanted to feel her way into knowing more about
this farm
It was late June. As she walked away from the house and the closely cropped lawn,
the grass thickened and she felt herself seep into the damp lush carpet where the ani-
mal pastures began. She passed through the gate near the barns and into the field
where the zebras, camels and Destiny’s horse stayed. The smells along her path
changed as she moved away from the rich fecund scent of gathered animals and across
the pasture towards the river. The perfect rows of planted pines shivered and whispered
to her right. She wandered closer, listening for the emu and ostrich. Simon said he’d ex-
tended their paddocks into the pines to help maintain the underbrush and give the birds
more space to roam. He always seemed to be engineering two purposes out of one job.
She admired his efficiency but wondered about his success
51
The pines were hushed of any animals. Hadley imagined the giant birds like enor-
mous chickens, roosting in the dark in a secure place.
She crossed back towards the other fence perimeter. The dense hardwoods were
separated from the fence by a faintly worn drive. This was the mysterious side of the
farm, the impenetrable wood. There was no gate along this fence line and electric wire
prohibited her scaling the fence and being too adventurous. She walked the edge, lis-
tening, smelling, waiting for that other sound. About 300 yards from the house, the
rough drive veered into a narrow cut into the woods. Hadley stood at this place in the
fence staring into the pitch black space. She wanted to try and scale the fence. She ex-
tended her hand in the direction of the top line contemplating the shock. But before she
even reached the electric wire, the fence snapped with electricity and she snatched her
hand back. Exotic species needed serious joules of electricity to prevent their escape.
The first day warning Simon gave her when she arrived at the farm was not to test the
fence.
She waited at this gateway of darkness for any indication of what lay down the path.
The only sounds she heard were the whir of the crickets and the distant throttle of frogs
by the river. She gave up and continued through the field to the only perimeter left to
reach, the river bank.
The Coosa River was a broad, deep channel of water at least a hundred yards
across in most areas. Simon’s farm sat on the northwestern bank. The pastures stopped
a few hundred feet from the water’s edge and a thick tangle of kudzu and briars covered
the fifty yard drop to the water. The pasture curved south with the river and Hadley
walked in the direction of the current.
52
The river rippled in barely distinguishable eddies of silver and black. On the far bank,
a ribbon of shadow marked a forest of hardwoods, the mirror image of the impenetrable
wood. The stars scattered like diamond dust above the lumbering river, flecks of immor-
tality, shattered imaginings of God. Hadley’s soft shoes were soaked. The summer night
air shifted through her loose pajamas, bringing a welcome chill to the heat welling in her
heart. She felt overwhelmed with the pulse of the river and land around her. She felt
humbled and proud and liberated and dangerous. She wanted to run.
Haldey was so intoxicated with her surroundings, she didn’t notice the edge of the
pasture until she almost tripped into the hot wire. She was at the corner of the field and
there was a steel gate. A stone path extended beyond the gate and down to the river.
Hadley felt for the gate latch. There was no lock. She easily lifted the latch and opened
the gate.
The stone path cut through the thicket of vines and bushes. It dropped away from the
field, down the bank and then veered right. Where the path turned and ran parallel to
the river, the thicket was tall enough to obscure any view of the river or field. Hadley felt
she was in a tunnel as she walked along the wide path. Her curiosity was greater than
her fear. She was exhilarated by the shadowy adventure of escape.
Without her realizing it, Hadley found herself on the river’s edge. The path ended at
a broad floating pier. The pier gently rocked against a pair of stone pillars. The pillars
were much older than the pier itself, anchors from a time gone by. Directly across the
river from the pier was another structure marked by bulbs of light but difficult to make
out exactly. Hadley assumed it was another pier. And beyond the pier was a path of
twinkling lights that studded the large opening in the dark ribbon of trees. In the dis-
53
tance, Hadley thought she discerned another building, a few windows lit but difficult to
make out at this distance in the dark.
This close to the river, Hadley felt the heaving current in front of her. A cold air drifted
with the river along the banks. The water pulled South, drawing the night with it. Some-
thing about it made Hadley nervous for the first time in her walk. She realized she must
have been gone from the house for over an hour. If Simon was awake, he was surely
looking for her now. She turned away from the river and started to run back up the stone
path. She was careless and tripped, crashing her knees into the sharp stones. Without
too much thought she continued. She was out of breath when she reached the gate, her
knees stinging from the fall. But she didn’t stop. She passed through the gate, barely
pausing to be certain it locked behind her. She fled across the field, chest heaving for air
when suddenly she heard it, a lion’s roar echoed out from the dense wood. The sound
crackled like a forest fire then bellowed like a beast. Hadley froze in the middle of the
field, alone, and only certain that the lion’s roar was no fantasy. She knew for sure in
that moment that there were animals on the farm that she had never seen, a ghost
world Simon was keeping secret.
Hadley pulled her camera bag from the closet for the first time since arriving at
Simon’s. She decided if she just handled the inert black body, cleaned the lenses, and
organized old images, some figment of inspiration would come to life. She had just
enough canned air in her bag to blow the dust off the body. Her lens cleaner was empty
and she could not find the lens cloth anywhere in the multitude of pockets of her bag.
She sat at the kitchen table staring at the disassembled body of the camera, lenses
54
lined by focal lengths. This was her life before the farm and Simon, and now it sat on
the polished pine counter in skeletal remains. She felt a darkness in her chest. She was
becoming someone else, someone molded by circumstances beyond herself and she
didn’t like this feeling of dependence.
The front porch door slapped open on squealing hinges. Simon stood in the
doorway, with sweaty blond curls framing his receding hairline. He was without a shirt,
long khaki shorts worn and ripped at the legs. He was filthy and full of raw energy.
“I just heard from Frank. He wants us to come over for dinner tomorrow night.
He’s excited to meet you. I told him you were quite the lioness.”
Hadley picked up her lenses as if she had been busy at work organizing her next
move with the camera.
“I hope he knows you are prone to exaggeration,” Hadley teased.
Simon passed Hadley in a humid, acrid cloud of wood chips and perspiration.
She felt her whole body pulled in his direction. It was a magnetism that both over-
whelmed her and she resented. She focused on attaching a lens to her camera body.
Simon poured himself a glass of fresh lemonade from the the blue glass pitcher
in the fridge.
“You should wear something nice. Frank is all Deep South aristocracy. He likes a
formal dinner, gleaming china and crystal. You know the type. But he’s quite a guy.
Generous, witty and powerful.”
Hadley looked up at Simon on this last word of his description. She felt that bite
of jealousy, she felt when Simon first spoke of Frank. He was obviously attracted to
Frank for reasons she could never match. She raised the camera to her eye and fo-
55
cused on Simon’s hands, his throat, then his lips as he finished off the glass of lemon-
ade.
“I’m glad you’ve picked up that camera of yours. We need pictures of the ani-
mals. Documentation to keep track of our inventory.”
Hadley lowered her camera.
“Inventory is a cold word,”
Simon shrugged, “You know what I mean,”
“I was thinking I could come out with you, maybe you could take me to those
new barns you are building beyond the electric fence and I could document the building
of the facilities.”
Simon shook his head, “No, I’m headed into town with Lobo and Destiny to pick
up more supplies and feed.”
“I could go with you.”
“We’re taking Lobo’s truck. No room for more than three.”
Hadley had a million more questions. To start with, why did Destiny need to go
and not her?
Instinctively, Simon changed the subject, “Do you have a nice dress to wear to-
morrow night?”
Hadley shook her head, “Nothing formal.”
Simon pulled his wallet from his back pocket and tossed a credit card down be-
side Hadley’s camera.
“Go into town to Mountain Brook Village and buy something special for yourself.
Surely you can find something original in one of those uppity boutiques.”
56
Simon left the empty lemonade glass on the counter and returned back out the
front porch door as suddenly as he arrived. Hadley picked up the credit card from the
counter. If that was the way this was going to be, she would just have to oblige Simon.
She would probably need a new pair of shoes and a glass of wine or two with a light
supper to complete her afternoon.
Curiosity and a smite of envy drew her to the window to see if Simon, Destiny
and Lobo were leaving right then.
Lobo’s old Ford sat in the driveway to the barns. Lobo sat behind the wheel wait-
ing for Simon and Destiny, who appeared together from the barns, laughing at a shared
joke or story. Simon waited for Destiny to slip into the seat between Lobo and himself
and then he pulled himself in behind her. And just like that they turned around and left
Hadley musing at the window.
Hadley gave Calliope her 2pm feeding then grabbed the keys to Simon’s subur-
ban and headed into town. She turned onto the county road at the end of the farm dri-
veway thinking about all of the possibilities of a full tank of gas and an unlimited credit
card. But by the time she hit Highway 280 heading north west into Birmingham, her
Thelma and Louise fantasy had faded into a confused funk of fight or flight. This was a
place she had been before, unrecognizable in the beginning but so obvious to her now.
She was guilty of an addiction to the search, the pursuit of something greater, a once in
a lifetime jewel of experience that every time she found it, she seized it and expected it
to last forever, a high that never had a comedown. But what had she found exactly? She
57
never knew. The reality was a nostalgia for something lost, a broken egg drying into ef-
fervescent flakes in the sun.
Hadley needed a friend that would listen, a mirror as shattered as herself.
She found Brian’s work number in her phone. As the line buzzed on the other
end, she realized it had been almost three months since their last lunch. Time had a
strange way of standing still on the farm, each day so routine and yet full of unusual ex-
periences, the passage of time was more like an ornate carousel that spun to an eery
mechanical music that was nothing short of hypnotizing.
Brian answered on the last possible ring.
“Hadley?”
There was a pause. Hadley considered hanging up. She felt herself submitting to
emotions that felt both dangerous and unnecessary. But the familiarity of Brian’s voice
triumphed.
“Hey, I am going to be in town this afternoon. Any chance you want to catch a
drink after work? I mean... coffee.”
Brian paused.
Hadley corrected herself, “Or an early supper. I’m going to be in Mountain Brook.
What’s a good place to talk?”
“I… uh… I was supposed to meet someone…”
“Cancel. Whoever she is, tell her something came up. Food poisoning from
lunch…”
58
Hadley knew she sounded desperate but she didn’t care. She needed an escape
from the farm, the lion cub, being a lioness, Destiny and Simon and her complete inabili-
ty to recover her own purpose.
Brian tried to keep his ship on course, “I work with her. She just saw me and she
knows I’m not sick with food poisoning.”
“Then tell her the truth. An old friend called and this is your only chance to catch
up before the old friend leaves town,” Hadley persisted.
“Are you moving back to Georgia?”
“No, no, no… but I might as well live in the wilds of Africa for as much time as I
spend in town. You can’t get out your date?”
“Hadley… you just call me out of the blue and want me to drop everything to
meet you for dinner?”
Hadley was struck into a stark reality with Brian’s question. She had assumed
after their lunch in March that somehow she had earned a free ticket to Brian’s life, an
old friendship that could be rekindled with the strike of a match.
“I’m sorry. You are totally right. That was pretty inconsiderate of me to ask.”
“I’m glad you called. I sort of wondered if I had said something at lunch that day.”
Hadley laughed gently, “Oh my gosh, Brian, if you only knew all that had been
going on. I honestly didn’t even realize it had been three months until I heard your voice.
I should have sent you some kind of thank you text or something. I’ve just been so pre-
occupied.”
“A new life with someone can be like that,” Brian reflected.
59
“Yeah. Really. Well it was nice to hear your voice. I’ll call again. I promise. With
more heads up.”
Hadley thought she could hear Brian smiling on the other end of the line. She felt
herself smiling for the first time in days, a real smile, not a smile with a million disparate
thoughts behind it.
“Yeah, you too,” Brian hung up without another word.
Hadley checked the phone to make sure that he had actually hung up.
Hadley knew most of the dress shops in Mountain Brook closed between five and
six. It was almost four when she arrived in the quaint Tudor style village of boutique
shops and high end jewelry stores. She found a parking spot on the main drag of Mon-
tevallo Road and tried the first boutique she saw, next door to a Starbucks full of men in
suits and women in workout clothing navigating the outdoor seating with jogging
strollers.
The shop was empty except for a very thin young woman arranging dresses by
size on the back wall. She spoke to Hadley when she entered but Hadley would hardly
have called the young woman friendly. Hadley breezed along the minimal selection of
designer big print shirts and pencil thin slacks. She tried not to let the setting get under
her skin. This was not the kind of place she frequently found herself and part of her felt
like an oryx in a china shop. The image of the oryx browsing through the wedding china
section of the jewelry shop on the corner made Hadley almost laugh out loud. She
judged the dresses the girl brooded over from a distance. She waved goodbye and the
girl never noticed.
60
Two doors down was another shop with several dresses in the display window
that interested Hadley. An older woman with expertly coiffed silver hair met Hadley just
inside the door and immediately charmed her way into Hadley’s pocket book with clear
directions on color and style based on Hadley’s brief description of what she wanted.
Within minutes of entering the shop, Hadley found herself twirling thigh-high satin shifts
in the mirror, and searching for a matching pair of heels for the high-waisted full-length
two-tone lace gown in powder blue. She finally settled on a sensuous slip dress in blush
pink.
It was five-thirty when Hadley walked out of the dress shop with her arms full of
dress, shoes and accessories. She dropped off the items at the suburban and searched
the street for a place to eat outside. Around the corner from the jewelry shop was a
small bistro that had a few tables outside. Hadley headed across the street for her early
supper and two glasses of wine, even if it was by herself.
The hostess sat her at the only table in the shade. The summer sun was still
above the roofline and the two top was strategically positioned in the shade of an
awning that was remarkably useless. It was hot but not humid. Hadley found herself
less inclined to air conditioned spaces since living on the farm, where most of the activi-
ty was outside regardless of temperature.
Hadley ordered a glass of Chardonnay by the price not the name. She figured for
twelve dollars it had to be decent. The waitress was quick to bring it out and Hadley
noted that in a neighborhood like this, good service was either great or non-existent. As
if a certain clientele accepted either, but no middle ground.
61
The time was rush hour and the bistro offered a good view of the suburban hustle
home and subsequent shuffling of family and engagements that kept humans enter-
tained. Hadley enjoyed the view. She realized her time on the farm had removed her
from this and left her positioned on a precipice with an excellent perspective but a long
way to fall if returning to this milieux. Here in this restaurant she also had distance from
the cyclical obligations of the farm that created a sort of whirlpool that sucked her deep-
er into the forest, into the powerful arms of Mother Nature that could at times feel suffo-
cating and relentless.
If only for the time it takes to down a glass of Chardonnay, Hadley felt peace. The
externally imposed purposes of the farm did not feel so absolute in contrast with the fre-
netic traffic of suburban life. She recognized the choices, the divergent paths that broke
off from the main highway of society and she realized there was probably no other road
for her.
“Hadley?”
She turned at the familiar sound of her name. It was Brian, walking up from the
more residential section of the village. The calm and certainty in Hadley’s heart van-
ished like Halloween candy in front of a child. She felt immediately awkward and out of
place.
“Hey, are you meeting your date here? How weird.”
Brian bypassed the front door and hostess stand and sat down across from
Hadley as if invited. He looked stressed out, forehead creased and soft bags beneath
his eyes. In the high contrast of dusk, Hadley recognized that the suburban life had tak-
62
en its toll on Brian. He was lost and on the verge of complete bitterness. But he smiled
at Hadley.
“No… I canceled the date. You reminded me that work romances aren’t a smart
choice and I have been teetering on the edge. I took a chance and decided to walk
down here to see if I could catch you. I tried to call. It went straight to voicemail.”
Hadley pulled her phone from her purse. The phone was dead. She didn’t re-
member the battery being so low, but who cared. Nobody important was likely to call.
“I haven’t ordered yet. Are you hungry?”
The waitress appeared as if on cue. Brian ordered a wood fired pizza and Hadley
ordered a chicken dish.
“So you sounded a little…”
“Desperate? I was feeling it. I really needed to get off the farm. It’s consuming out
there. I have always loved animals, but really, you have no idea.”
Brian seemed hardly interested in the words Hadley said. He seemed to be look-
ing through her, searching for something between her words.
“Brian, are you okay?”
Brian refocused.
“Just hard to unwind from work...when you quit drinking you take the time to rec-
ognize the challenges of living… and you wonder… how is it that anybody survives.”
Hadley was pulled out of her own head with this confession from Brian. She real-
ized he was a different person than her best friend from high school. He was a man en-
tering middle age with monkeys on his back, broken of ambition other than to survive.
Hadley wondered how they could be the same age. She felt younger, more hopeful and
63
less burdened. But they had taken different paths. Brian had chosen to participate in the
cultural norms; a career, a family, a hometown community that came with certain expec-
tations. Hadley had bucked these responsibilities for a quest to know the world, to stay
just outside cultural confines and remain the observer. It was her photographer nature
that felt so shuttered by her current circumstances. She could no longer stay outside the
responsibilities of others. She was obligated. Not to Simon, but the farm somehow. And
maybe that was the effect of Calliope, a lion cub so out of context, it was now Hadley’s
responsibility to give her context in a setting that seemed like it could be an ill-fated
gamble.
Hadley swirled the last sip of wine in her glass reflecting on Brian’s words,
“You just don’t know how to start over yet,” Hadley offered.
“And then there’s you… suddenly showing up in town. Maybe you are supposed
to be my guide?”
Hadley bristled at this. She didn’t want to be anyone’s guide or any of the other
responsibilities that this label might require.
“I don’t think so. I’m just an old friend. It sounds like you need that right now more
than a guide.”
Brian picked up on Hadley’s quickness to distance herself. He searched for their
food as if the conversation had been going on for hours without service.
“The servers in this place always seem to disappear after you order your food. I
think the chef is out back smoking pot.”
“Yeah, right, on the seedy alleyways of Mountain Brook…”
64
“You might be surprised. So, tell me more about this farm your boyfriend has. It
sounds like there’s more going on there than just your average cattle operation.”
Hadley chose her words carefully. Brian was an attorney after all and she had no
idea about the potential legalities related to the animals at the farm. She focused on the
quantity, the constant expansion and the relentless effort to manage the land and facili-
ties.
“So, it sounds like your boyfriend is breeding for a hunting preserve. Several of
my colleagues go out to Texas each year and hunt zebra and some kind of gazelle. Kind
of weird to me but they say there is a thrill in hunting big game.”
Hadley was horrified at the idea of hunting zebra.
“Oh, hell no. We are more into conservation. The idea of hunting zebra in Texas
makes me want to vomit. That’s like hunting wild horses with an automatic rifle. Who are
these men? They sound like the worst kind of person.”
Brian laughed at Hadley’s sensitivity. It was a laugh of bitterness and a bit ma-
cho, she thought.
“Come on Hadley… what’s the difference between hunting deer and zebra? They
are both wild animals. And you know how a Southern man likes to hunt.”
“Don’t remind me. But Simon is nothing like those men. He’s a sensitive adven-
turer. He’s a romantic. You should hear him talk about his adventures in Africa.”
Brian didn’t drop the subject. The skeptical attorney took over.
“Right… because anyone who’s read a National Geographic, couldn’t spin a tale
about travels in Africa…”
“Have you forgotten? I met him in Thailand on business. He’s a world traveler.”
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Hadley realized being on the defense of Simon made her sound like a sixteen
year old girl.
“You just sound a little Pollyanna about this whole thing. I mean where’s the prof-
it?”
Hadley had never thought about profit from a big picture angle. She just assumed
there was an altruistic motive by the bigger money- this guy, Frank, whom she would
meet tomorrow night.
“There’s a guy funding the whole thing. I’m supposed to meet him tomorrow
night.”
The food arrived and they were distracted for a moment with eating.
“Who’s this guy funding the farm? I probably know him.”
Hadley paused at giving Brian more information. She felt a little torn apart by his
questioning and she would rather change the subject. But she had no choice except to
answer and move on.
“Frank-somebody… It doesn’t really matter. It’s not any of my business really.”
Brian stopped chewing his pizza and spoke with a mouth half full.
“Frank Chenowith? Wow!”
Hadley was annoyed by Brian’s tone.
“If it’s Frank Chenowith… you have no idea what you have gotten yourself into.
The Chenowiths are one of the original Alabama plantation families. They own thou-
sands of acres of land. They got into mining and chemicals early in Birmingham’s histo-
ry. Most of their business now is in South America and Asia. They are a very reclusive
family, always avoiding any type of visibility in the community. But they are rumored to
66
have a lot of influence in Montgomery and even Washington. There’s no telling what
they are really doing in South America and Asia. There’s no telling what you are a part
of.”
Hadley studied Brian. He was grinning to himself over his Diet Coke and pesto
pizza. She wasn’t sure how to react to this new information.
“I’ve got good instincts, Brian. I know when I’m into something nefarious.”
Brian shook his head laughing now.
“You’ve got moxy, I’ll give you that. Just don’t fall for some adventure story and
quit using your head. We’re getting old… it gets harder to pick up the pieces. I promise
you.”
Hadley laughed at Brian, “Are you kidding me? Forty is prime time, not old. You
just need some adventure out of your stupid suburban life.”
The conversation focused on Brian for the rest of the dinner. They talked about
his soon to be ex-wife and her new boyfriend. The divorce was almost final and Brian
was trying to focus his time on his boys, who had pretty much shut him out of their lives
when he moved out. He was trying to reduce his work-load and considering new hob-
bies. As they talked, Hadley felt like Brian’s mood generally shifted from bitterness to
something more optimistic. By the time the meal was over, it was as if they had both
done their job as friends, relieving pressure and refocusing on things that somehow
seemed like better priorities.
Brian walked Hadley back to her suburban. They stood for an awkward moment
as if neither really knew how to say goodbye. Hadley broke the tension with a strong
67
hug and kiss on the cheek. Brian seemed thankful to know where they stood. Almost
back to the old days, with more wisdom, Hadley thought.
The drive back to the farm took almost an hour. Hadley tried to find music on the
radio for the drive, but the thoughts in her head were too loud to listen to the radio. She
felt on edge. It would be after nine when she got back to the farm. This was the longest
time Calliope had gone without a feeding. Since her phone was dead, she had no way
to let Simon know where she was or remind him to feed the cub. She wondered if he
was worried. Earlier in the evening she felt defiant, now she only felt anxiety. Brian
seemed to confirm her fears that there was more she needed to know about the farm,
Simon’s business, and this partner, Frank, especially if he was a Chenowith like Brian
presumed.
By the time Hadley pulled down the winding drive to the farm, she was consider-
ing her options. She loved Calliope and the animals of the farm, but Simon had become
more distant in some ways, enjoying Destiny’s company more than her own. Hadley
had given up her own direction to be there, and now it was starting to feel like a risky
place to be. But where would Hadley go? She had given up her apartment in Atlanta
and moving into Birmingham was the last place she wanted to end up. She felt con-
fused and sweaty when she arrived at the house. She braced for a fight inside. The
bright porch light was on and a few lights in the living room. Surely Simon was waiting,
seething and surly.
Hadley could barely open the front door with her arms full of clothes and acces-
sories. Inside, Simon sat on the couch, watching a movie from his computer and feeding
68
Calliope from her large red teat bottle. They both watched Hadley struggle into the
house. She dropped the items just inside the door.
“I was starting to worry about you,” was all Simon said.
Hadley carried her stash to their room.
“I got some dinner with an old friend. I didn’t realize my phone was dead until I
got on the road home.”
Hadley prayed that Simon would lose interest or change the subject like he usu-
ally did from personal things to something about the business of the day.
“Which old friend? I didn’t know you were taking the suburban. Ask me next
time.”
“I need new tires on my car.”
Hadley started getting ready for bed.
Simon put Calliope in her cage. She paced. She was waiting for attention from
Hadley. Simon stood watching Hadley undress. He studied her like he must an animal
at the auction, checking for blemishes, conformation, scars, Hadley thought. She felt the
need to turn her back to him as she slipped off her shirt.
“Thank you for feeding Calliope,” she offered.
Simon stepped closer to Hadley. He lightly ran his hand along the small of her
back.
“She wasn’t going to let me eat without feeding her,”
He spoke in almost a whisper now that he was beside her.
Hadley turned her bare torso into Simon. His hands slipped along her shoulders,
down to her breasts. His eyes stared into her own with a flame that ignited her body.
69
She pulled back as if there was a chance that she could finish undressing. But Simon
was inspired, his broad hands, roughened by the fence work, the building of barns, the
handling of wild animals, tightened on her hips and took over. Hadley became adrift in
his grasp, submissive and overwhelmed with an empty mind.
70
Chapter 4 - The Thoroughbred
Hadley would never admit that she believed in magic. Fundamentally she trusted
rational explanations. This went for religion as well as any kind of phenomenon or coin-
cidence. Magic in her mind was just lack of information or discovery. This went for rela-
tionships as well. She believed that every desire for another person that she had expe-
rienced was somehow rooted in the science of her mind and fulfillment of a need, either
biological or psychological.
Simon believed in magic and he told her so as they dressed for the dinner at
Frank’s.
“After tonight, I promise, you will believe in magic.”
Simon’s cheeks bloomed with a ruddy warmth as he spoke to Hadley. He moved
around the room with a happy restlessness adjusting his tie, slicking back his cherub-
like curls behind his ears, and brushing his teeth twice. Hadley could not remember ever
71
seeing Simon quite like this. His excitement was like a child getting ready for the circus,
an uncontrollable energy that she tried not to be annoyed by.
“Have you ever been to a real magic show?” Simon asked.
Hadley was in the bathroom putting on eyeliner. She looked up to Simon staring
back at her from the mirror.
“We had a magician come to our elementary school and do tricks. He even made
doves disappear from a hat and reappear in their cage,” Hadley answered.
Simon scoffed from the other room. He began searching for something in the
drawers of his wardrobe. Hadley chose a glittery dark red for her eye shadow. If they
were going to a real magic show, she needed to look the part.
Simon reappeared in the doorway with an ornate teak box. He polished the out-
side of the box with the back of his coat sleeve and held it up for Hadley to see.
She turned from her make up. Simon held out the box for her. It was simple with
an Asian elephant carved out of the hinged top. Hadley looked at Simon confused. She
was afraid to open the box.
“Go on… look inside.”
Hadley took the box in her hand and opened it slowly.
The interior of the bottom of the box was lined with a dark blue velvet that rippled
in folds like water. Nestled in the folds of the velvet was a white gold ring of tiny doves
with a single sapphire of maybe 2 carats flanked by tiny diamonds. Hadley panicked.
She was not prepared for Simon to ask her to marry him.
“Do you remember in middle school when boys would give girls a promise ring?”
72
Hadley had heard of such a thing, but no boy had ever offered her any kind of
promises with a ring. And she was not so sure she did not prefer it that way.
“That’s your promise ring. I promise to make your life magical.”
Simon took the ring and slipped it onto Hadley’s finger and kissed her lips. He
then suddenly turned away with the box in hand.
“Now get that dress on. We have a dinner to attend.”
Left alone in the bathroom, Hadley stared at herself in the mirror. She felt a wave
of emotion flood her chest. She felt her eyes twitch with tears. She quickly grabbed a
tissue and tried to prevent her make-up from smudging. They were not tears of pure joy.
It was fear and foreboding, anticipation and antipathy. But it was not Simon that con-
cerned her. It was herself. She was the one who did not believe in magic.
Simon waited for Hadley in the living room. He seemed to approve of her dress
but he quickly swept her out the door as if any more expression of sentiment might
crush them both.
The RTV that Lobo used to feed the animals was parked beside the porch.
Hadley assumed that they would be driving the suburban to Frank’s house. It never oc-
curred to her that there might be another route.
Simon made sure the RTV was clean for Hadley to sit down. She followed his di-
rection and settled herself. Soon they were speeding down the drive to the barns and
then out across the pastures towards the river. Hadley realized they were taking a boat
to get to Frank’s.
73
She had never told Simon about her middle of the night venture to the river. She
felt she needed her own secrets about the farm. Besides, her trip to the water had been
in virtual blindness, like a dream. This time the path beyond the steel gate was lit with
solar torches that flickered with an unnatural orange light against the creeping over-
growth along the gravel path. Simon held her hand as she delicately picked her way on
her toes so as not to scuff her heels. When the pace of their progress annoyed Simon,
he scooped Hadley up in his arms and carried her down the roughest section. He lightly
dropped her at the stone pillars of the old pier and they walked easily out to a shiny new
pontoon boat that rocked with the floating pier.
The night was cloudless. As the pontoon boat chugged out into depths of the
Coosa River, the darkness became a universe of reflected light. The eddies of the river
shifted with starlight, the quarter moon warbled in the wake of the boat. And in their fo-
cus was the grand shimmering of lights of the big house that Frank occupied on the
other side of the river.
There was very little but the lights that Hadley could make out about the big
house from her side of the river. But as the pontoon boat approached the other side,
she began to sense the age and scope of where she was going. Hadley noticed that
there was a matching stone pillared pier like the one on their side of the river as if both
sides of the river were connected. But the floating pier was much larger, with adjoining
boat houses that sat against the bank like shadowy henchmen waiting for their master’s
command. Warm glowing Chinese lanterns and a million twinkling lights hung from
posts along the perimeter as if it were always a holiday on this bank of the river..
74
The path to the house ascended the bank in flagstone tiers like a layer cake,
scalloping back in some form of gardens that Hadley imagined were roses or azaleas.
Beyond the top flagstone wall was a broad ascending lawn with a large, well lit cascad-
ing fountain. The lawn was cropped close like a golfing green and the flagstone path
took them across the yard and circled around the fountain. As they approached the
fountain Hadley could see the figures of the fountain, a romanesque man stood in a
scalloped shell chariot led by a triton attempting to tame a winged seahorse alongside
another calmer horse being led by another triton blowing through a shell. Hadley recog-
nized the scene, but it seemed so out of context here on the riverbank, she couldn’t
place where she had seen the fountain before. She wanted to pause here, but Simon
pulled her on up the flagstone steps to the broad flagstone patio surrounding an unusu-
ally long pool that stared like an aquamarine eye up at the sky.
The house beyond the pool patio was not the structure that Hadley expected.
She imagined something plantation-like, tall columns and long fan swept porches. In-
stead the Big House was actually more old world and chateau-like, with limestone walls
and multiple chimneys. There was a balustrade that extended the length of the house,
and beyond that tall windows that hinted at ornately decorated rooms behind heavy
drapery.
Simon led Hadley up a central set of steps as if this was his own back yard. At
the top of the steps was a set of open French doors that revealed a large dining room
set with the finest crystal and China. Depression Era Jazz crackled from an unseen
record player in a distant room. Candles flickered on the table as if dinner were almost
served. As they entered the dining room, a woman in a black dress and apron carried a
75
silver dish of steaming vegetables to the table. She nearly dropped the dish at the sur-
prising sight of the well-dressed couple.
“Mister Simon, you could at least give an old woman a warning. Always using the
back entrance like a thief!” Scolded the woman in a faint accent that Hadley thought
could be from the Caribbean or Central America. She would later learn that Maria
Sueña was Filipino and had been with the Chenowiths as long as anyone could re-
member.
“I like to pretend I am family. Maria Sueña, this is Hadley,” Simon spoke as if he
and Maria Sueña had discussed her at great lengths. She had that feeling again, that so
much of Simon she still knew nothing about. Or was she simply not paying attention?
“Mister Frank is with Mister Durban in the Library,” Maria Sueña called over her
shoulder as she disappeared again through swinging doors into the kitchen.
Simon pulled Hadley in the direction of the music through a door at the far end of
the dining room. They passed through several doorways so quickly she hardly had time
to take in the decor or purpose of the rooms. Simon winded her out into a grand foyer
with a large staircase dominated by a baroque chandelier and the largest grandfather
clock she had ever seen. They entered the library off the foyer through a set of double
doors.
The library was as much a natural history museum as it was an actual library.
Just inside the doors was a fully restored gramophone spinning a giant needle over a
Count Basie 78. But at the foot of the gramophone was a fully intact, seventeen foot,
stuffed African crocodile with gaping jaws glistening at Hadley’s feet. She nearly jumped
into Simon’s arms at the sight of the awesome predator which was clearly the inten-
76
tioned effect. Frank and his guest, Mr. Durban were more than happy to interrupt their
conversation to enjoy Hadley’s reaction.
“Holy shit,” were the first words out of Hadley’s mouth.
Simon reached down as if to pet the vicious predator,
“Now, sweetheart. Mathilda does not mean you any harm.”
Frank rose from his leather armchair and strided over to meet his dinner guests.
He was a tall, athletic man in his late sixties. He went straight to Hadley and gently em-
braced her with a kiss on her cheek as if they were intimate friends. She tried to hide
her awkwardness with a stiff formality.
“Simon has told me so much about you. And he doesn’t disappoint,” Frank said
admiringly. He grasped Hadley’s wrists and stood back to admire her from head to toe.
“I hope you will forgive, Mathilda. She can’t help the impression she makes. Of
course, you understand.”
Frank released Hadley and turned to shake Simon’s hand with both of his.
“Young man, it’s about time you showed up.”
Simon gave Frank a strangely nervous smile and quickly stepped to shake hands
with Mr. Durban, who had not even bothered to get out of his chair when they entered.
Hadley followed Simon and introduced herself to Mr. Durban who received her
with a cool smile. He spoke in short phrases in a colonial British accent that she imag-
ined could be South African. He was red-faced with a brassy blond head of hair in need
of a hair cut, and his manner was unfriendly and calculating as if he always expected
the worst of people.
77
78
This shrill, sing-song voice came from a young woman in a bright, angular
evening dress at the doorway. She stood leaning against the wall in a seductive stance
as if her arrival to the scene was the beginning of a cabaret. She noticed Hadley who
was now at the back corner of the library looking over an open original copy of Darwin’s
Origin of the Species. The young woman immediately honed in on Hadley.
“I wouldn’t touch that. Daddy says people ruin books,” the young woman came
uncomfortably close to Hadley, so close that she could smell the young woman’s child-
like perfume of strawberries and cotton candy.
Hadley stepped back and politely offered her hand in introduction,
“Hi, I’m Hadley.”
“Daddy told me who you are. You take care of the animals when Simon goes
away.”
Hadley thought about this description. It was shockingly accurate.
“And you are?” Hadley inquired.
“I am Daddy’s Girl, but you can call me Rachel. Or Ophelia… or Strawberry
Shortcake… or Circe… or Sweetness... or my favorite, The Thoroughbred.”
Hadley tried to hide her amusement. Strawberry Shortcake was her favorite
choice but she did not want to be rude. She chose the most normal sounding of the se-
lection of names.
“Rachel is a nice name.”
This seemed to please the young woman and she turned back to the entrance
collecting Hadley in an embrace and sweeping her along for the ride.
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“Mommy really can’t stand when Daddy is late for dinner. Talk, talk, talk, talk.
Mommy hates talk. As a matter of fact, don’t be surprised, she won’t talk. Mr. Durban
will do all the talking. Daddy says I am going to marry Mr. Durban one day. What do you
think? Will Mr. Durban make a fetching catch?”
Rachel burst into a witch-like cackle that suddenly stopped at the entrance to the
dining room.
“Don’t you think that is funny? A ‘fetching catch’? Like a river catfish.”
Rachel searched Hadley’s eyes for some kind of agreement. Then the girl’s stare
went blank like a black curtain over her brown eyes. Hadley noticed her pupils were un-
naturally large and vacant. She wanted the strange young woman to release her. She
looked back to see if the men were following. Simon was close. He downed the rest of
his aperitif in one chug as if the library conversation had left him thirsty. He was clearly
preoccupied with the discussion but he gave Hadley a reassuring look when he saw her
need to be rescued from Rachel.
“Hadley, I know that Frank would like you to sit beside him. He wants to answer
all the questions he knows you have about our farm. He is as excited to have you be a
part of the family as I am.”
A female figure sat at the far end of the table; waiting, staring straight ahead as if
in deep meditation. The woman had jet black hair in a bouffant style that framed her
heavily powdered face and darkly lined fake eyelashes. She was beautiful like a wax-
figure sort of memory. But her presence was profound, an unavoidable black hole at the
end of the table. The men ignored her gravity. Rachel on the other hand sunk into a
chair beside her mother and wilted. Lucky for Hadley, Frank sat at the other end of the
80
table and he insisted she sit beside him. Simon, used to the routine, fell in beside
Hadley and immediately continued his conversation with Mr. Durban who sat beside
him.
Maria Sueña entered the room and began pouring red wine into the crystal gob-
lets starting with Mrs. Chenowith. Vegetables and meats were passed around the table.
The food was rich and entirely too much had been prepared. Hadley wondered if the
Chenowiths ever ate leftovers. Surely they did not prepare all of this food for one dinner
of six people.
As soon as the dishes stopped moving around the table, Frank focused his con-
versation on Hadley. He wanted to know about her family, her childhood in Birmingham
and her efforts to leave the South. His conversation was engaging and genuine but
Hadley knew when she was being vetted. She did not mind, though. She was waiting for
her own turn to ask the questions when their familiarity and the wine would make the
answers more natural.
Hadley had at least two glasses of wine with dinner. The initial buoyancy from the
aperitif had worn off and the wine was making Hadley feel sleepy. As she finished her
dinner, she wondered if it would be too impolite to ask for another drink of the aperitif.
As if he read her mind, Simon offered to make them both another. When he returned,
Hadley shifted the conversation to the animals at the farm.
“Has Simon shown you all that he has done in the last few weeks? They have
worked so hard. But Simon doesn’t tell me much. He likes for each new animal to be a
bit of a surprise.”
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Frank smiled knowingly, “I know Simon is ready to settle down and see this
project move into its next phase.”
Hadley waited to see if Frank would elaborate. Before he could continue, a
movement in the mirror behind Frank’s head caught Hadley’s attention. She could have
sworn she saw an animal scurry along the table. She turned to see if something had
suddenly entered the room from the open doors.
Mrs. Chenowith continued to stare straight ahead in a zombie-like gaze and
Rachel in a sullen heap, picked at a piece of bread. There were no animals, only half
eaten-trays of food and half-empty wine glasses. She turned back to Frank. He studied
her like a scientist. It was analytical not wanton. She wanted to know what was in his
mind and she said so.
“You are thinking something about me. I can see it in your face. I want to know
what you think,” Hadley reached out and touched Frank’s hand, a gesture of confidence
and intimacy that he took advantage of.
“You see things that you have questions about but are afraid to ask. Don’t be
afraid. Not of Simon. Not of me. You are a strong person with a lot to offer our enterpris-
es.”
Frank bent close to Hadley and cast his eyes towards Simon and Mr. Durban,
“I like to build a company with people who see things differently. I don’t mind conflicts.
Every conflict has a solution and they make the entity stronger in the end.”
Frank seemed to be referring to something between Mr. Durban and Simon.
Hadley looked back to see them sharing strong words in a low whisper. Mr Durban’s
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face was turning a blotchy red and Simon was beginning to twitch with a frenetic ex-
citement that usually meant he soon would have to leave the room.
When Hadley turned back to Frank to continue her questions, she was startled
to see two Capuchin monkeys hovering in the reflection behind him. She caught herself
before admitting what she saw.
“Do you have any animals here?”
Frank shook and lowered his head. The Capuchin monkeys scurried back
along the table in the reflection. Hadley looked over her shoulder but resisted the urge
to go to the mirror and search out the creatures in the reflection. She was certain now
that what she saw in the mirror was not what was actually at the table.
“We used to have an entire circus-full of animals on this property. You see, the
animals are because of my mother,”
Hadley was not sure whether he was referring to the animals on the farm or
the animals in the mirror.
“When my father met my mother, she was an equestrian in the circus. She
rode horses and elephants. It was during the Depression when they were married. My
mother insisted my father make a place for the animals she had worked with when the
circus could no longer care for them. When I was a child, just after World War II, we had
10 horses, 3 elephants, 4 lions and several pet monkeys on the property. But my father
began to fear for my safety around the retired animals. He insisted the animals be
moved to the other side of the river. At that time, there was a ferry that went across the
river from the pier on this property to the old forest and farmland on your side of the riv-
er.”
83
Hadley realized this explained the matching stone pillars on each side of the
river.
“After an inexperienced handler was trampled by one of the elephants, my fa-
ther became adamant thatthe animals be moved immediately or shot. A huge fight en-
sued between my parents and my father had the handlers load all of the animals onto
the ferry that day. The rush meant that the ferry was not prepared for the load. As they
made their way across the river, which was already swollen with spring rains, the ani-
mals became nervous and restless. The ferry capsized and the animals fell into the riv-
er. The elephants drown immediately, a couple of the horses made it to shore but the
monkeys and lions were never seen again. The sinking of the ferry was too much for my
mother. She never spoke to my father again. A year later she died of pneumonia. Some-
times I imagine I can hear a lion roar from across the river. I know it is only a figment of
my memory of her, calling to me. But I want it to be real. And one day… in the not so
distant future, it will.”
As Frank spoke about his mother, the blood drained from Hadley’s face. She
felt a chill around her throat and chest. The mischievous monkeys from the mirror had
disappeared leaving her both curious and afraid of what she had witnessed.
Abruptly, Mrs. Chenowith stood up from her place at the end of the table and
tapped her crystal goblet with a silver fork. Everyone became silent and Rachel stood
up quickly to speak for her mother.
“Mommy says it is time to dance. Everyone must retire to the parlour, and we
will dance.”
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Simon grabbed Hadley’s hand from behind her and pulled her close. He whis-
pered into her ear.
“The only request that Mrs. Chenowith ever has is for dinner to end with danc-
ing. I hope you don’t mind. It’s actually something I always look forward to,”
Hadley wondered who Simon usually danced with. It was hard to imagine him
dancing with the peculiar Rachel.
Everyone stood up from the table and followed Mrs. Chenowith into a large
room next to the library and just off the foyer. The room was mostly empty except for a
few settees along the wall and several family portraits of the Chenowith’s as young par-
ents with presumably Rachel and a slightly older boy. Hadley wondered about the son
that no one had mentioned yet that evening.
Frank obediently retreated to the library to start up the gramophone with an-
other jazz record. The gramophone apparently had a modernized speaker system that
carried the music into the parlor. As a Duke Ellington tune played from the other room,
Frank took Mrs. Chenowith in his arms. She was a stiff mannequin that barely acknowl-
edged his existence but he gently rocked her to the music. Simon gathered Hadley to
him and tried to keep her uneducated feet in time to the swing. And Mr. Durban and
Rachel showed that they were oddly the experts at the jazz era swing moves.
When the record ended, Mrs. Chenowith left the room. Hadley watched her
leave, fascinated with her silence. She was the most curious and unforgiving mystery of
the big house so far. Frank never missed a beat. He went into the library and changed
the record on the gramophone to another Billie Holiday song. When he returned, he in-
sisted that Simon allow him to teach Hadley how to dance. The song was slow and
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Frank held Hadley close at his shoulder, then softly spinning her and stepping in a
rhythm with his head down seeing if she could keep up. The music bewitched Hadley’s
feet and she felt herself swing and tap in slow synchronicity with Frank’s steps. As the
song faded into cracks and pops, she melted against Frank like butter into molasses.
Simon was quick to retrieve Hadley from Frank’s arms when the record went
silent. Frank suggested they all have another drink in the library. By this time, Hadley
was beginning to feel the cumulative effect of the alcohol. She held Simon’s hand tightly
as they walked into the library. She felt barely moored, like a floating pier at risk of cut-
ting loose on the river. Simon sensed her vulnerability and sat close beside her. Hadley
wanted to tell him about the monkeys in the mirror but was afraid he would think she
sounded too drunk and insist they go home. She still had so many things she wanted to
know about the Chenowiths.
Rachel plopped onto the couch with Simon and Hadley.
“Daaaa-ddy and Mr. Durban are going to buy me a horse that will win the Ken-
tucky Derby. They promised,”
Frank stood over his strange daughter with one hand clasped to her shoulder.
“Sweetness, you already have a filly that was supposed to win at Churchill
Downs.”
Rachel soured like a child on the verge of a tantrum.
“She wasn’t strong enough. She is weak. She fell to pieces when they raced
her. I need a strong colt that will win the Der-bee!”
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Mr. Durban had been silent since they entered the library but he found the
conversation about the horse very funny and was waiting for the right opportunity to give
his opinion.
“She gets rid of the broken down nag, she can have another, right Frank? Si-
mon, I’m sure you’ve got some use for horse meat at the farm. The lion cub needs fresh
meat. You can’t keep feeding the white lion sirloin from the grocery.”
Hadley sobered at the idea of feeding her lion cub horse meat.
“My Calliope is just a month old. She’s still drinking formula,” Hadley flatly told
Mr. Durban.
“She’s a lion. She can’t drink fuckin’ milk forever,” Mr. Durban scoffed.
Rachel watched the back and forth between Mr. Durban and Hadley like a ten-
nis match.
“Daddy, we can send the stupid filly to Simon and he can do what he wants.
She’s no good. The trainer says her leg won’t ever be right for racing. And then we can
get a colt at Keeneland.”
Hadley noticed that Rachel sounded suddenly clear-headed about the process
to rid herself of the injured thoroughbred and get a better prospect. Simon was rubbing
his head. The evening seemed to be exhausting him.
Frank took control of the conversation before Mr. Durban and Rachel offended
Hadley further.
“I may be mistaken but Simon, didn’t you tell me that Hadley wanted a Thor-
oughbred of her own. Maybe she could nurse this filly to be a riding horse, and if
not...well… Anyway, Rachel’s passion is the racing and she does need to move on.”
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Rachel plucked herself off the couch, clearly proud of her success at negotiat-
ing her next racehorse. Mr. Durban chuckled from his perch by the liquor cabinet.
Rachel breezed to his side and he handed her a shot of the ruby liqueur. Frank picked
another record for the gramophone before the party fell apart. It was a jumping, big
band number that made Frank snap his fingers in rhythm to the bass. He sat down in
the leather armchair across from Simon and Hadley. He leaned into them with leaping,
bright blue eyes that fixed on theirs.
“The lion cub… tell me about her. I must come see her. Durban tells me she is
white as powdered snow.”
The last thing that Hadley wanted to talk about was Calliope. Simon took over.
“She’s healthy. What is there to say about a lion cub? She’s growing. She’s
hungry. We are going to need more space for her soon.”
Hadley was comforted to hear Simon talk about the cub with an idea of the fu-
ture. Calliope had started to pace the steel cage and the interior of the house was hard-
ly enough room for her to roam.
“Durban told me you discussed the hardwood forest.”
Simon seemed to grow uncomfortable with the suggestion of the forest. Frank
saw him hesitate.
“You haven’t told her everything…?”
Hadley looked from Frank to Simon.
“Hadley doesn’t ask a lot of questions. I thought you could explain when we met.”
Simon clasped Hadley’s hand and she felt a wave of anticipation. This was the
information she had been waiting for.
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Frank leaned back in his armchair. He thought about how to summarize an idea
that had been fermenting in his mind for decades.
He waited for the record to finish before he started to speak. He kept his eyes
on a trio of African trophies that consisted of a kudu, an impala and a gazelle.
“Maybe you already know this Hadley… but our planet is changing. In twenty,
maybe fifty years, much of the megafauna of Africa will be extinct. In 100 years; ele-
phants, lions, giraffe will be the stuff of legends like dragons and griffins and harpies. It’s
inevitable. Humans are like a plague, unleashed and spreading rampantly, destroying
everything in their path. God gave us everything from the cure for cancer to the answer
for loneliness when he made the forest. But we didn’t want the answers he gave us, we
wanted to invent our own answers. We wanted cars, trains, airplanes and rockets to the
moon. In short, we wanted to be God. As a consequence, no human can stop the
changes that are coming. The only thing we can do is prepare.”
Frank waited for his words to sink in. Simon watched Hadley for a reaction.
Rachel lit a clove cigarette and Mr. Durban poured himself another drink.
Half drunk, Mr Durban couldn’t contain himself,
“In other words, sweetheart, your lion cub ain’t yours and if she needs to eat
the fuckin’ horse to survive, we’ll feed her the goddamn horse.”
Frank shot the South African a look of death and Durban retired to look for a
bathroom.
Hadley listened with every fiber of her emotions squelched beneath a pillow of
austerity. She wanted the truth regardless of its consequence. She thought about the
retired elephants anxiously balancing on the ferry before it capsized and Frank’s mother
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watching from a third floor window in the house. She did not want to be powerless in
this venture with Simon and whatever hard truths it took to prevent that, she would steel
herself to take.
Frank’s face suddenly darkened. His warmth disappeared and a brutality
creeped into his expression.
“We will one day be the only source for the most unique animals of the world.
It’s God’s providence.”
Frank seemed to instantaneously withdraw into himself. He stood up and wait-
ed as if expecting them to follow. Simon knew the cue and quickly pulled Hadley to her
feet. He shook Frank’s hand good bye. When Hadley tried to give Frank a hug, she
found him cold and stiff. Simon kept Hadley on the move to prevent her from reflecting
too deeply on the situation. They drifted back through the rooms to the dining room,
where Maria Sueña sat polishing the silver. Simon touched Maria Sueña’s shoulder in a
gesture of appreciation as they passed out through the French doors that stood open
with a river breeze lilting through the curtains.
Hadley stopped just below the balustrade and looked back at the big house as
if to drink in the strange magic of the Chenowiths one more time. Above, in a window on
the third floor stood Mrs. Chenowith looking out towards the river. Hadley turned back to
follow Simon who was gently, but quickly pulling her back towards the docks. The only
thing that marked the landscape between the big house and the river was the aquama-
rine eye of the pool and the fountain. Hadley noticed large dark shadows moving along
the path Simon pulled her down. She became rigid and Simon looked back at her.
“Don’t you see them?” Hadley asked.
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Simon looked back in the river’s direction, then back to Hadley with a shrug.
“See them? See what?”
Hadley rubbed her eyes. But the figures were still there, moving silently to the
fountain.
“The elephants drinking in the fountain?” Hadley was deadly serious.
Simon laughed nervously,
“You’ve had too much of Frank’s French liqueur. It’s time for bed.”
Simon pulled Hadley past the giant, silent beasts as they waited patiently to
drink from the cascading water between the horses. She resisted the desire to reach out
and prove to herself that the magnificent animals were real. She decided to let them
remain a part of her waking dreams, like the lion’s roar and the mischievious monkeys
at the dinner table. But one thing Hadley knew for sure was that Mrs. Chenowith saw
the same animals she did. And she chose not to speak of them or of anything for that
matter.
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Chapter 5 - Canada Goose
These days Brian spent a lot of time thinking about the whole concept of “the Big
Picture“. When he drank, “the Big Picture” just happened and it didn’t have a name. It
was a by product of his habits and routines and he just accepted what he received as if
there was no such thing as destiny, just a random set of circumstances that he called
life. Now that alcohol was not dominating the lens of his life, he started to recognize the
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crumbs of fate. The Big Picture had become something tangible, yet out of reach; a no-
tion of purpose that he was definitely not prepared to accept but he finally recognized as
his own.
The problem was that the Big Picture made him really, really want to drink. As a
matter of fact, the longer he had gone without a drink, the worse it had gotten. When he
started his sobriety, he had a plan. He created new rituals in his life that were to take the
place of the ritual of alcohol.
The gym membership, the walk to the park before breakfast, the labradoodle
puppy, the ginger ale with dinner all worked for the first two months. Other lawyers no-
ticed the weight he lost. Women wanted to join him on his morning walk. Even Marnie
mentioned he looked happier with a dog. It felt special and different and hopeful. Then
the newness wore off and Brian found himself going through the motions with his mind
wandering, thinking about a night in Las Vegas when he won 30,000 dollars at Black
Jack and spent half of it on the company of a young girl, probably underage, that he
can’t even remember the details since the night ended with a blackout. His daily work-
outs could not erase the memories and the labradoodle puppy became a reminder of all
the ways he had failed as a parent. The Big Picture started to play in stereo with Techni-
color brilliance and Brian desperately wanted to darken the screen.
Only two things kept him afloat in the past month; the News and birds. For some
reason other people’s misery and the challenges in other parts of the world offered him
relief from his own mind. He kept a news station playing in every room he occupied.
Sometimes it was a public radio station where they constantly congratulated themselves
on their sincerity and humanity. Other times it was the most Far Right podcast he could
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find, where hatred and grievances spewed like pus from a festering wound. At night he
listened to foreign broadcasts where the news even of his own country had an other-
worldly ring like a travel brochure from a by-gone era. Tsunamis and famine and war
became a sort of sedative to his mind, as if his own Big Picture was nothing in compari-
son to what God was really up to. Brian was addicted to the news. He knew this but he
was not ready to discuss it with anyone. He needed a secret.
The other way that Brian found an escape from his mind was by watching birds.
He discovered this on a lunch break when he needed to make a bank deposit. The bank
was located off a suburban highway, in an office park with concrete ponds and phallic
fountains. He turned off the highway and found a gaggle of Canada geese completely
clogging the road as they paraded from one chemically treated lawn to another. He
considered running over the waddling pedestrians. They moved infuriatingly slow. But
instead he became hypnotized by their crowd management. They were impervious, dili-
gent and organized. They hit the chemical lawn on a group mission that took care of
survival, made time for plenty of rest and relaxation, and completely ignored the hassles
of modern life. As Brian negotiated around their delicate parade, he realized the life of a
bird like the Canada Goose could be the goal.
After that day observing the geese, he began to take special notice of the birds
around him. He bought a book about birds and kept track of the types that he encoun-
tered in certain parts of the city. He found himself transfixed by the most mundane activ-
ities of the most mundane birds. He paused on the courthouse steps to watch the mat-
ing pattern of pigeons. He rerouted his walk to include a pass behind several restau-
rants where a murder of crows fought over last night’s leftovers like college roommates.
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And he especially enjoyed watching the shopping mall geese who managed to find a
place to raise their young among the storm drains and chain link fences. The birds had
figured something out that he wanted to know- a way to focus on the important things
regardless of what was around them.
Brian waited anxiously for five days for a call from Hadley. He played the news
extra loud and fixated on the nesting patterns of the pigeons in the facade of his office
building. On the sixth day, he woke up with a mouthful of bitter-tasting anger. His heart
felt squeezed out like a used lemon, all acrid rind and pulp. It was not Hadley he was
angry with. He was angry with himself and his lack of anything important to hold on to.
This was an old feeling, that Big Picture awareness that he was completely afraid of. If
he did not do something different today, Brian knew he was not going to make it without
a drink.
His day was punctuated by three obligations. At 9:00 a.m. he had to be in court
for a status hearing. At 11:30, he had a conference call with a client on a medical device
case. At 3:00 was another conference call with attorneys on a class action suit that he
had become a consultant on. This did not seem like a heavy schedule but the in-be-
tween hours were expected to be hours on the computer. He promised himself that he
would drive a different route to court, eat lunch somewhere new, talk to someone he
would normally never speak to. It was the best idea that he could come up with. He left
the apartment determined not to fall apart.
The judge’s docket was short and Brian was done at the courthouse with an hour
to kill before his conference call. He considered going back to the office but recognized
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the groove he naturally fell into. Today was a day of revolution, he must resist the mind
control that came with his regular routine.
As Brian descended the courthouse steps, a flock of iridescent throated pigeons
exploded into the air. This was a sign, he told himself. He followed the direction of the
birds in flight. He walked South until the last of the flock disappeared into an alley. He
turned left on Second Avenue North and walked to 20th Street, the main thoroughfare
that stitched Birmingham together north to south. The street was lined with new cafes
and restaurants, many of them just setting out their street side tables for lunch. Brian’s
briefcase was getting heavy. He looked for a place to get coffee. Just off 20th, he found
an older cafe with vintage couches and homemade scones. He ordered an Americano
and retreated to an empty table towards the back of the shop.
Brian sat down and looked around as if to ask the question, “Ok, I’m here, now
what am I supposed to do?”
In front of him sat an older black man in a work shirt, absently stirring a cup of
milky coffee. A young woman with pink hair and a nose ring cleaned the tables at the
front of the cafe. She smiled when she saw him staring at her, and she walked over to
check on him. He made up a question about the muffins in the glass case. He wasn’t
hungry but he ordered one to hide his awkwardness. After the girl with pink hair brought
his muffin to him, he opened his briefcase and pulled out a copy of Newsweek to settle
his mind.
“The Lemon poppy seed are better than the blueberry.”
Brian looked around to see who spoke. A young woman in a lab coat and jeans
sat with her knees drawn up on the couch. She was in her early twenties with a tangled
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web of tight black curls that fell past her shoulders. She had dark, almond shaped eyes
with eyelashes as thick and curled as her hair. She was thin framed and intense.
“I don’t like little seeds,” Brian explained.
“Too bad for you, I suppose,” stated the girl and she reopened the paperback
book in her lap.
Brian tried to see what she was reading.
“Are you reading the Iliad?” Brian said with surprise in his voice.
The girl seemed a little annoyed.
“Yes,” she said without looking up from the book.
Brian tried to hide his natural sarcasm, “Do you like it?”
“Yes.”
“You know, the only thing I remember about the Iliad is that Alexander the Great
slept with it beneath his pillow every night that he went to battle,” Brian told her.
The girl smiled wryly, “It is the greatest handbook for war and men.”
“I should read it again,” Brian laughed, “Are you a doctor at the University?”
She took a moment to answer him as if deciding whether she really wanted to
continue the conversation about herself with a stranger.
“Student. MD/PHD program. I pretty much live in a lab.”
Brian nodded and let the conversation fade. He did not want to seem too forward.
“What are you reading about?” she asked pointing to the magazine spread out in
front of him.
He flipped the pages as if searching for the right article.
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“Just this week’s news. This article about doctors in Syria is pretty amazing. It’s
incredible how they do so much with so little”
“Fucking al-Assad and Hezbollah…” the young woman muttered bitterly.
Brian realized this girl took the subject personally.
“Are you from…?”
“British Columbia, but my father is Persian ,” she said not taking her eyes off her
own book.
“Hezbollah and al-Assad are supported by Iran. I take it you don’t support the
homeland?” Brian thought his question sounded innocent enough.
“Typical American point of view. Every citizen of a country in the Middle East
must be a suicidal terrorist.”
Brian thought even her black curls seemed to tighten with her tone. He tried not
to be offended.
“Actually, that’s not my point of view at all. But maybe we’re getting off on the
wrong foot…” Brian waited to see if she would continue to shun him.
She looked up from the book interested to see where he was going.
He continued, “I’m Brian. I’m forty-three years old. I’m a litigator with Parson &
Jones. I like birds. Actually I think I love birds. I am recently divorced with two sons and I
have been sober for exactly one hundred and seventy-two days. Oh yeah, and I have a
puppy.”
The young woman burst into laughter,
“That is truly the worst come-on line I have ever gotten from a man,”
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She weakly clapped her hands as if the show had left her stunned, horrified and
impressed.
Brian could not stop.
“This morning I woke up with a desire to either get drunk or commit suicide be-
fore the end of the day. For no good reason. I mean nothing bad happened to me yes-
terday. Or this week. My ex-wife is trying to be nice. I think she has a new boyfriend and
she just doesn’t care anymore. My son actually called me yesterday. It was for money
but it was better that than silence. I have work somewhat under control for the first time
in fifteen years. On all accounts, I am doing better than ever. But why today of all days
do I feel like it is all going to come crashing down around my head? I have no idea. I am
just trying to survive the day.”
She just listened. Her eyes smiled but her lips barely moved.
“I have no idea why I am telling you all of this. I guess because you are a
stranger. And you already don’t like me. So there’s nothing to lose. And because you
are still listening.”
She stood up and walked over to Brian. She reached out and gave him a hug. It
was the bravest most natural thing anyone had ever done to him. He thought he might
break down right there. But instead, when she let go and sat down across from him, he
went silent both inside and out.
“I think Achilles would say that the gods are fighting over you,” she told him.
“I guess that’s better than abandoning me,” Brian smiled.
She nodded. She held out her hand across the table.
“I’m Laylah. Brian, you may be the strangest American man I have ever met.”
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Brian’s phone rang. It was his medical device client. He took her hand and shook
it quickly,
“Laylah, you are amazing. I have to take this call. But… thank you.”
Brian answered the call and stood up. He needed a private space to talk to the
client about the way that his company’s medical device was poisoning women’s bodies
by the thousands. He stepped out of the cafe, leaving his briefcase at his table like a
promise that he would return to talk more with Laylah.
The street was busy and he searched for a quiet space away from the truck
noise so the he could sound professional and explain their case challenges. He ended
up in a shuttered doorway in an alley around the corner. He argued with the client about
the research, the depositions, the timeline of the case. Thirty minutes later Brian hung
up the phone feeling defeated and completely irresponsible for leaving his briefcase in
the cafe. He hurried back.
When he returned, the cafe was empty except for the girl with pink hair and a
young man behind the counter arranging pastries on a tray. There was no sign of Laylah
but his briefcase sat where he had left it. He walked to it hoping there was some sort of
goodbye note, some way to meet her again.
There was nothing but the Newsweek, neatly folded open to the page about the
Syrian doctors as if Laylah had taken the time to read the article he recommended. Bri-
an found a sliver of hope in this simple thing, another sign that there was someone lis-
tening, even just for the moment.
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Brian made it back to the office around 1:00 p.m. He tried to focus on preparing
for the 3:00 conference call but his mind jumped around like a firefly caught in a jar. He
thought about Laylah and the Iliad. He had a hard time believing anyone would read
something like that for pleasure. He searched the internet for quotes that would some-
how enlighten him. But out of context, the quotes had little impact.
A knock on his office door interrupted his mental wanderings. It was Jack Linton,
another partner in the firm who had the office next door. Jack was a few years younger
than Brian, married with small children and always looking for an escape. Brian wanted
to have sympathy for him, but he reminded him of too many of his own mistakes and
Brian had very little sympathy for himself.
“You got a minute. I need some advice,”
Jack entered the office and shut the door behind him.
Brian wanted a distraction but he had a bad feeling about what was coming next.
“I need a little damage control and since you’ve weathered your share of prob-
lems, I figured you’d have some answers.”
Brian couldn’t tell Jack that he was the last person to consult for answers. He
tried to just listen. Wasn’t listening the real answer?
“There was a misunderstanding…” Jack paused. He paced in front of the window
overlooking 18th Street.
Brian looked at his watch. It was 2:30. He was not prepared for his call.
“Are you on that 3 o’clock call? This won’t take just a minute to explain.”
Brian waited for the punch line.
101
“We all went to The Paramount the other night after work and that new paralegal,
Savannah, went with us. We had a few drinks, you know, and one thing led to another.
My point is, things happened that probably shouldn’t have. No big deal. But turns out,
she’s kind of wacky. Young and crazy the way we always liked them in law school. Now
she’s texting me all the time. Getting kind of intense like she’s going to go all Fatal At-
traction on me. I need a way to shut it down. How can I shut this whole thing down be-
fore it gets personal.”
Jack sounded desperate and cornered. Brian struggled to care.
“How bad does she need her job?” Brian strategized.
“Hell, if I know. She kinda seems like a rich kid.”
Brian shrugged, “Ignore her. What other choice do you have?”
Jack was sweating.
“She’s threatening to call Cindy.”
“So head her off at the pass. Be honest with Cindy and tell her you’ve got a crazy
girl at work threatening you. Tell Savannah, you aren’t interested and if she threatens
you just tell her you’ve already told your wife. You’re a good mediator.”
Jack nodded his head.
“I’ve gotta prepare for this call,” Brian stated flatly.
Jack left the office. Brian rubbed his forehead until his face burned. It was all the
same whether he was sober or drunk: the human weakness that wreaked havoc every-
where. At that moment a quote from the Iliad came back to him.
There is nothing alive more agonized than man
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of all that breathe and crawl across the earth.
Brian was surprised by how well he remembered each word. They were branded
into his mind in just one view. He thought about Alexander the Great reading the Iliad.
What did he find so profound that he would sleep with it beneath his pillow until his
death? Was there an understanding of man that this book could teach Brian? Did Laylah
have answers that Brian was looking for? He thought about her fierce tight curls bounc-
ing as she walked from the vintage couch to his side. She was a stranger with a gift,
humanity in a ferociously gentle form.
The 3:00 phone call came like an iron fist into Brian’s thoughts. He pulled docu-
ments up on his computer and listened to the defense strategies, deposition angles, and
court dates with a numb hollowness that he had long ago mastered. He wanted to get
through the day and he was two-thirds of the way there. The phone call dragged on for
an hour and a half. He drifted in and out of the conversation, occasionally making a
comment so that everyone was clear he was still on the line. In the meantime, he or-
dered an audible version of the Iliad to listen to when he got off work.
By 5:30 Brian could justify leaving the office. The front receptionist, Louise,
walked with him to the elevator. She was a kind woman about 10 years older than Brian.
She rarely spoke about much besides business. Brian was not even sure if she was
married or had children. He appreciated her simplicity and reliability. As they got on the
elevator he tried to imagine her as a bird, maybe she was an owl or a loon, neither of
which had he seen in their natural habitat. But she watched everything with purpose,
placing significance on only the most relevant details. As she walked out onto the street,
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Brian considered asking her more about herself. He was too late. She was out in the
world and disappearing before Brian realized the opportunity was gone. He told himself
he was always a little late to realize the impact of things. If he was a chicken crossing
the road, he would have long ago been run over.
Brian needed to get home to walk Sunny, the puppy, but he was starving. A new
grocery was open around the block from the office and he decided to pick up some kind
of prepared food on his way home.
The new grocery was crowded with UAB students, business professionals and
an array of city dwellers from all income brackets. People on the elevator from the park-
ing deck talked like old friends. The clerks at the cash register looked him in the eye and
personally welcomed him to the new store. The jovial mood left Brian feeling awkward
and self-conscious. He agonized over a prepared salad or BBQ pulled pork and maca-
roni.
“You have a strange relationship with food.”
The voice was familiar and startling. Laylah stood at his elbow with an armful of
fruits and bread.
Brian tried to hide his elation at seeing the young woman again by impulsively
ordering the pork, gooey macaroni and a side of collard greens.
“I don’t know how you people eat that mess. It looks like a heart attack,”
The woman handed Brian his steaming styrofoam bowls across the shiny steel
top.
“We call it soul food and home cooking because it soothes the soul to eat it. You
should try it.”
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“I’m a vegan.”
“Too bad for you, I guess,” Brian said mimicking her words earlier from the
cafe, “You come here often?”
Laylah smiled, “It’s the only grocery downtown. I live and work downtown.”
“It’s very… festive. It’s weird,” Brian observed.
“Not everyone wakes up in the morning considering suicide,” Laylah returned.
Brian laughed. He couldn’t remember laughing in days.
“Laylah, you are the strangest Canadian/Persian I have ever met.”
“I’m not sure if that makes me sound more like a bird or a cat,”
Brian smiled. He almost started to tell her about how amazing the Canada geese
were at the shopping mall but the critical thinker in him stopped the impulse. He did not
want to ruin the moment with the rabbit trails of his mind. He started towards the
cashiers hoping Laylah was headed in the same direction. She followed him and for a
moment Brian had the feeling that they were together, two satellites orbiting the same
planet.
Laylah got more serious at the check-out counter. She asked him how he was
feeling. He wanted to keep telling her the truth since it had been so easy at the cafe, but
the words didn’t come out like he intended. All he could say was, ‘fine’. She didn’t press
him, but it was obvious she didn’t believe him.
Brian waited for Laylah to pay for her bananas, strawberries and sprouted bread.
He thought it all fit together well, the way she made her life more challenging by eating
super healthy and reading classics. She was a try-hard, but what else would you expect
from an MD/PhD, he supposed.
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At the sliding entrance Laylah paused. Brian’s car was in the parking deck. Lay-
lah lived in apartments down the street. They were not going in the same direction.
“You want a ride home.”
“It’s just two blocks.”
“Is it just a coincidence that we randomly met in two different places today?”
Brian had a pleading tone in his voice. He tried to clear his throat.
Laylah thought about the answer for a moment.
“I don’t really believe in coincidences.”
Brian shook his head.
“I don’t really believe in fate.”
Laylah smiled, “Well, what about luck?”
“I enjoy gambling. I definitely believe in luck,” Brian could taste the sweet joy of
winning on the back of his tongue.
“Well, if the Gods keep arguing over you, maybe luck will bring us together
again,”
Brian wanted to tell Laylah that luck was fickle and cruel. If you wanted some-
thing done right you couldn’t depend on luck. But his will to follow through on anything
was weak these days. His puppy had probably destroyed the bathroom by now and Bri-
an had been meaning to get home for over an hour.
“Well, I suppose if we are ever to meet again, you will have to put off death for
another day.”
Brian laughed for the second time.
“You have a good point. Any chance you want to meet again on purpose?”
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Laylah took a long time to answer as if Brian had asked her a riddle.
“I think it is better to leave it up to luck. So far luck has worked magic.”
Brian was satisfied with her answer. He could have predicted it. But he didn’t
know how to respond.
Laylah gave him another hug, awkward with grocery bags of bananas bumping
his side. She started to walk away.
“Hey, what kind of doctor are you studying to be?”
“Pain management. I study pain,” Laylah left through the sliding doors without
looking back.
Brian watched her go. Her answer had left him with more questions. He turned to
the elevators and punched the button. His cell phone rang in his pocket as the door to
the elevator opened. He tried to answer the call but as the elevator doors shut, the call
clicked off. He looked at the missed call. It was Hadley. He slipped the phone back into
his pocket.
When Brian went to sleep that night, he listened to the Iliad through a set of
headphones. A man with measured Oxford English boomed about the rage of Achilles,
Agamemnon’s love of war and the complex motives of the gods. But when Brian closed
his eyes he didn’t see the armies of the Trojans battling on the seaside. Instead he pic-
tured geese absurdly balanced on the power lines like pigeons, two or three drawing in
close to one another as if their lives depended on a bit of shared warmth in spite of the
summer heat.
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Chapter 6 - The Bloodhound
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Arlo Esplanade had a theory about a small town like Epic, if you want to find the
criminals, go to the biggest church and see who talks the loudest. It was not that the
loud talker was the criminal, just that the trail of crumbs usually started there. Besides,
going to church in Alabama was always the way into a community. It was the perfect
cover.
Arlo rented a two bedroom farm house off of County Road 61. The house sat on
10 acres of pasture land and as he explained to the owner- Arlo had intentions to have
an organic micro greens business. He might even buy the place if he could get his busi-
ness really going.
Emmett Smith, the landowner, shrugged at the idea. He didn’t care what the
strange, wiry young man was up to as long as he paid his rent and didn’t mind the
stench of mothballs in Emmett’s dead mother’s house. The last guy who rented the
place didn’t mind the mothballs, but was addicted to pills and used all his rent money to
stay high. He was hell to get out of the place. Emmett just prayed this guy had more
sense.
Arlo moved in on the Fourth of July. There was not much to move. The Agency
gave him a small budget for living expenses. He spent some of it at the thrift store in Al-
abaster purchasing a worn leather couch, an armchair and chipped tile coffee table.
Some he spent on a forty inch flat screen tv, a mattress and linens from retail stores on
Highway 280. The rest he saved for all the things he would need to help blend in. It
would take some time to figure out exactly what those things were. This was only his
second deep undercover job, his first ever trying to live off the land. But the Agency said
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that was exactly the way they wanted it. He was more likely to get to know his neighbors
if he needed their help.
The Fourth was on a Tuesday, so for the next five days he drove around getting
to know the community from the roadside. Epic was a one light town, literally. It was
birthed at the junction of two highways; one heading east to west and the other north to
south. From every piece of property in the community you could see the power plant
steam stacks on the river. In spite of the industrial fixture to the East, the land was lovely
farmland with rolling bahia hay fields framed by century-old water oaks. Most of the old-
er homes were two and three bedroom wood-sided farmhouses. Equestrian estates had
recently sprung up in the area with expensive four board fencing and barns that looked
as nice as houses. Within walking distance of the one light were several neighborhoods
with small houses interspersed with house trailers. Most of the driveways were occupied
by old pick-up trucks or patched-up sedans.
The booming town of Epic consisted of five thriving businesses scattered along
the four blocks at the one light. Once there had been several blocks of small businesses
but all that remained of that town were empty shells and sidewalks that needed weed
eating. The Epic Feed and Seed was the landmark among the surviving structures. It
sprawled along the Northeast corner of the main intersection with a metal warehouse,
mill structures and an array of pallets of feed, fencing and gates scattered around the
main retail building. On Fridays and Saturdays, a grizzled farmer sat in the shade of the
awning selling laying hens from homemade wire crates to the city dwellers who ven-
tured out for authentic farm goods.
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Across the street from the Feed and Seed was Right’s Grocery, a fluorescent oa-
sis of beer, chips and cellophane wrapped meat that looked a little brown on the edges.
And beyond the grocery store was a stand-alone concrete building with waist-high red
lettering that read “Big Ray’s BBQ”. Arlo noticed that all week during lunch the same
farm and power plant trucks came and went from Big Ray’s. He was baffled that people
in this town could eat so much barbecue.
Three churches stood within two blocks of the one light - Methodist, Baptist and
Church of Christ. They were all large, well-kept and billboarding different cheers for
prayer. Arlo was going to have a hard time deciding which to attend this Sunday. A sin-
gle municipal building was nestled among the churches; Epic Water Works and City
Council.
On the small hill behind the churches was the elementary school, a narrow brick
building with a metal awning that stretched the length of the building. Across the street
was a stretch of one story apartments that Arlo assumed by the clotheslines and Big
Wheels was the public housing for the community.
From what Arlo could tell, he could sit in the landscaped gazebo across from the
feed store and see and hear the drug-fueled heartbeat that was supposed to be working
this town. The only problem with that idea was that the gazebo was very conspicuous,
exposed like a moment of truth in the middle of an empty parking lot not a park. So, his
other options besides the church would be the feed store and the restaurant. On Friday
he decided to drop into the feed store and start getting to know the people of the town.
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Arlo walked into Epic Feed & Seed having never been in a feed store in his life.
When he took this job, he had complete confidence that anything he needed to know
about growing micro greens was available on the internet or in a book. Dig in the dirt,
plant the seeds, watch it grow. Or not grow. It was not supposed to matter whether he
was a success, just that he became a member of the community. When the cowboy hat
behind the counter spoke, it occurred to him that maybe he was in deeper than he was
prepared for.
“Hello there sir. How can we help you?”
Arlo mumbled something about just looking around and skulked down an aisle of
plumbing. He felt the cowboy hat studying him as he wandered to the back of the store.
A moment later an enormous man with tennis shoes that were untied and crushed like
mushrooms around his feet appeared in front of him.
“You buying feed or need hardware, sir. We got a special on hog feed and chick-
en feed this week. You got chickens? I love chickens,” the enormous man’s voice trailed
off like a whistfull child’s, “But you gotta watch out for those raccoons. Those raccoons’ll
kill a hen just for the fun of it.”
Arlo shook his head and walked towards the wall of seed bins. The enormous
man followed, his feet mashing in a soft squeak behind Arlo.
“You need some seeds. Mrs. Curry says only thing you should plant right now is
pumpkin and butternut squash. I can’t grow any eggplant at my house. But I got cucum-
bers. Whoa, I got cucumbers the size of a bull’s…”
“Mikey, leave that man alone and come get some oats for these ladies,” the cow-
boy hat barked at the enormous man like a father to his boy.
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Mikey wandered to the front to get his hand truck where he left it. Arlo watched
Mikey chat with the two attractive women waiting for him. The cowboy hat joined the
conversation about horse feed.
“The Mexican’s all feed their racehorses that Nutrena Respond. They love it,”
said the cowboy hat.
The younger of the two women made most of the suggestions. She was dark-
headed with a lot of silver jewelry that jangled as she moved. The other woman ap-
peared to be in her late thirties, was pensive and restrained. Arlo grabbed a couple bags
of seeds and walked to the counter. He found the women interesting and thought maybe
he could strike up a conversation if they left at the same time.
The cowboy hat walked back around the counter to check out Arlo.
“You know we got some vegetable plants out there.”
Arlo was confused so he just doubled down on his seeds.
“Nope. I’m good with seeds.”
The cowboy hat tried to be helpful, “I think those beans might do better than corn
this time of year.”
Arlo looked at him for a moment,
“What was I thinking? I meant to get the bag of kale.”
He grabbed the bag of corn and walked back to the seed bins eager to cover his
mistake. As he passed between the two women who were waiting to pay, he felt a
strange sensation in the back of his head. His eyes twitched and he felt like the lights
got brighter. He grabbed the bag of kale and returned to the counter. He rubbed his
head. He was really thirsty. He paid for the seeds and walked out. As soon as he was in
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the parking lot, the strange sensations went away. He wrote it off to a reaction to a
chemical in the building. The grizzled farmer with the hens watched him with curiosity.
Arlo decided to stall outside the building in hopes of another opportunity to talk to the
women. He tried to engage the farmer.
“What kind of chickens are you selling?”
“Golden-laced Wyandotte hens. These girls are good layers in cold weather. You
got chickens? Every household needs eggs.”
“Wine- dots?”
“Yessir, I’ll give you these 5 hens for a hundred dollars. You want a rooster? You
can have a whole family.”
Arlo thought about his budget and the authenticity of a prospective farmer having
a few chickens. He considered where he would put them. He peered into the home-
made wire cage. The pretty black and gold hen peered back at him, she girggled at him
with an open beak. Arlo thought she sounded suspicious.
At that moment the two women exited the store and approached a black subur-
ban. Mikey followed heaving a hand truck with several hundred pounds of feed. The
women talked about a horse. Arlo listened trying to figure out a way into an introduction.
The woman with the silver bracelets approached the grizzled farmer to look over
the hens.
“Lewis, you got any older chickens that need to be retired?”
Lewis tugged at his white beard for a moment. He looked up.
“Maybe twenty hens?” Lewis answered.
Arlo started to get that ‘retired’ was a euphemism.
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“I’m gonna send Lobo over next week. That work?”
“Yes’em. You need them processed?”
“Nah. We can take of it.”
The other woman stood back watching the two speak. She seemed as curious as
Arlo to know what the purpose of the chickens would be. She observed the woman with
the bracelets with detachment as if she were a private investigator herself.
Suddenly Arlo’s head blistered with a sharp pain that pulsed from back to front in
his head. He winced as if something had bitten him. Lewis and the women watched him
double over in pain.
Lewis stood up.
“You okay?” the farmer muttered.
Arlo rubbed his head. He was shocked at the crazy pain.
“I’m fine. Just a bad headache coming on from dehydration.”
The other woman with the long brown hair went to the suburban and retrieved a
bottle of water. She handed it to Arlo. Arlo nodded a thank you.
“The summer sun will take it out of you.”
Arlo drank the bottle of water hoping it would relieve the pain. The two women
and the farmer watched him, waiting for some result.
“I’m fine. Just fine,” Arlo wiped sweat from his forehead.
The women returned to the suburban. And Arlo looked at the chickens to see if
they had an opinion. The hens watched him, voices deep in their throat vibrating, as if
they did have an opinion but were holding back for more information.
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On Saturday Arlo rented a tiller from the big box hardware store and laid out his
garden according to a plan he found on the internet. He worked through most of the hot
afternoon. By five he had a third of an acre staked out and tilled. He was exhausted and
hungry. He thought about trying the barbecue restaurant in town for dinner. It would give
him an opportunity to see why the locals ate so much barbecue.
When Arlo pulled up to the concrete building he was worried the restaurant was
closed. There were no cars in the front parking lot. A red minivan was parked behind the
building but it looked like it had been there for a while. The front door opened with a tin-
kling of bells.
Inside, the cafe was empty except for a middle aged woman sitting at the counter
reading a local paper. She stood up and went behind the counter when Arlo entered the
building.
“What’er ya having?” the woman asked with a friendly but bossy tone in her
voice.
Arlo read over the menu above his head. It was a variety of home-cooked options
from fried chicken to meatloaf.
“How’s the meatloaf?”
The woman shook her head, “Out of the meatloaf and fried chicken. There’s
smoked chicken.”
“How’s your barbecue pork?” Arlo asked.
“We’re a barbecue place. Whatcha mean, how’s the barbecue?”
“I’ll have a barbecue sandwich and fries,” Arlo started to get his wallet out.
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“You pay when you pick up,” she told him as she poured frozen fries into hot
grease with a loud crackle.
Arlo sat down at a booth along the wall. He wanted to start up a conversation
with the woman but he would have to yell to be heard over the fryer.
The door to the cafe opened. The woman with the silver bracelets from the feed
store walked in with a child following at a distance. The woman had the same quiet con-
fidence in the cafe that she had in the feed store. The child on the other hand seemed
lost and forlorn. The woman with silver bracelets carried a paper bag which she handed
to the woman behind the counter.
“Destiny, you want a pound of pork to take with ya?” asked the woman behind
the counter.
The child stood by the quarter candy dispensers looking them over.
“No thanks. Kyle’s grilling hamburgers with his cousins.”
The woman behind the counter leaned out to speak to the child,
“Shiloh, you want a quarter for the machine?”
Shiloh walked over without saying a word and took the quarter from the woman’s
hand.
“Everybody doing ok these days?”
Destiny looked back at Arlo before answering.
“I got a job, what else matters? Right?”
The woman behind the counter nodded emphatically.
“Yes mam. At the farm with all the animals still?”
Destiny nodded, watching her child work over the candy machines.
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“And Kyle?” The woman behind the counter placed a red tray with a paper
wrapped sandwich and greasy fries on the counter. ‘Sir, your food is ready.”
“Kyle’s the same. No better,” Destiny told the woman in a lowered voice.
Arlo walked up beside Destiny to pay for his food. He could smell patchouli per-
fume and sweat on her. She stepped aside, studying him. He was aroused by her gaze
which made him fumble awkwardly for his money.
“You were at the feed store yesterday. You feeling any better? I was afraid you
were about to pass out on Lewis’ chickens,”
Arlo laughed weakly. He didn’t feel so good right this moment but he just shucked
it off as nerves getting to know new people..
“I think it was the heat,” he said and walked his food back to the booth. He un-
wrapped his sandwich and took a bite. He couldn’t taste a thing. He began to sweat. His
head throbbed. He wondered if maybe he was coming down with the flu.
Destiny turned and headed for the door, “Tell Margaret to let me know what she
needs by Tuesday.”
“Will do. Thanks for everything.”
Destiny stopped and looked back at Arlo, then the woman behind the counter.
“Gotta look after friends and family. It’s all we got. You stay outta the heat, Mis-
ter…?” Destiny was looking for a proper introduction.
Arlo was trying to focus his mind away from the migraine that was coming on.
“Arlo Esplanade.”
Destiny repeated his name to herself, “That’s some kinda name, Mister Es-
planade.”
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“Please. Arlo.”
Destiny waved and the little girl trailed out the door behind her with the quarter
still in her hand.
“You just moved into town?” The woman behind the counter asked Arlo.
He nodded with a mouthful of fries.
“Lots of good people in this town. We look out for one another. I’ve grown up
here. It’s changed in the past few years a bit. More people moving out of the city to have
little horse farms and goat farms and grow vegetables for them restaurants in the city.
People that grown up here their whole life struggle a bit to find a job. But that’s America.
And you know, everybody’s got some family member struggling, you know, with these
modern problems. But people look out for one another. Everyone knows everyone.”
Arlo finished his sandwich. He could almost taste it by the time he was done.
Arlo woke up Sunday morning in a pool of sweat. The window air conditioning
unit had frozen up in the middle of the night and now it was only blowing hot air into the
room. He got up and took a cold shower. He decided he would try the Baptist Church
this Sunday morning and their service started at ten a.m. If he didn’t hurry, he was going
to be late.
When he took this job, his superior explained the situation like this: The drug epi-
demic was wreaking havoc on the state’s budget. Jails, hospitals, police, the in-
frastructure of the state was being eroded by expenses related to drugs. The governor
was looking for a quick publicity fix since his election the following year would depend
on it. Epic had a reputation as part of a network of tight knit rural communities that were
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trying to handle their problem internally. But no one in the government could figure out
what that meant. Meanwhile, enforcement had determined that there was a lot of “traf-
fic” through Epic. Arlo’s job was to identify the substance and the players in Epic that
were handling this underground activity. He was to get involved in the community and
then “fall off the wagon” and begin “buying in” to the underground system.
Arlo’s last undercover job was at a university. Hanging out and buying OxyContin
in college bars with other college students was a pretty easy gig. Hanging out in a hick
town like Epic should not be any more difficult. He had learned people were careless
and arrogant on the whole and a community of farmers and backwood rednecks would
surely be easy to crack. He hoped so since the farm life was already starting to get on
his nerves with broken air conditioners and too much time in the sun.
Arlo pulled into the parking lot of the Baptist Church around 10:15. The parking
lot was full and the only place he could find to park was out by the gazebo in the center
of town. He assumed the church would be large and crowded when he arrived. He as-
sumed it would be easy to enter the building virtually unnoticed. He was wrong.
When he opened the double doors of the building, the service was in the middle
of singing a hymn. Several elderly women in the back row shot him a look of horror that
he could be arriving late. He ignored them and took a seat next to an elderly woman
with a indigo floral print dress. The hymn stopped and a square man in his mid forties,
boomed through speakers on the wall.
“As Merle plays the piano, please step out of your comfort zone and introduce
yourself to someone you haven’t spoken to.”
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The congregation heaved to their feet and began to buzz around Arlo with hellos
and handshakes. He felt his hand seized by a calloused thick palm from a man to his
right. The man shook him vigorously.
“You must be a visitor. Welcome to Epic Baptist Church. We love to have you
here. My name’s Fred Farnham. People call me Fred. I’m the mayor in this town. You
need something, you come to me. We love having you at church today. I sure hope, I’ll
be seeing you regular.”
And then Mayor Fred Farham jolted to the next person, the elderly woman beside
Arlo, whom he hugged so intently Arlo was afraid she would suffocate. Behind Fred was
Mrs. Farnham, a whisper of a woman with black eyes and a struggling smile that
seemed both anxious and secretive. She held her delicate hand out to Arlo and he gin-
gerly shook it.
As suddenly as the introductions began, the congregation sank back into their
pews and another older man with white hair combed over his cherry red scalp, stepped
up to the pulpit and spoke over the speakers in a gentle soothing tone.
“Let us pray. Dear heavenly father, in this time when our culture puts unrelenting
pressures on our heart, sometimes we forget that you are there, listening, waiting for us
to reach out to you…”
Arlo zoned out. As soon as anyone brought up the idea of the big man in the sky
listening to his heart, a tune came into his head he remembered from Sunday school as
a child,
“I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus, down in my heart. Where? Down in my
heart. Where? Down in my heart to stay. And I’m so happy. So very happy…”
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Arlo had never understood how Jesus was in his heart, God was up in the sky
somewhere, and they were all supposed to be the same person, loving him for who he
was and punishing him for the sins he knew he committed. As far as Arlo was con-
cerned, Church was a trinity of confusion.
He drifted in and out of the service, focusing his attention on the people around
him. The elderly either sat close to the pulpit so they could hear the preacher, or on the
back rows for easy access to the restrooms. In the middle were families and individuals.
On first glance few people stood out to Arlo. Most of the women were difficult to distin-
guish from one another. The men, seemed to be varying ages of mashed potato-eating
deer hunters. The only family that caught his attention were the Farnhams. Frank Farn-
ham appeared to be watching his peers more closely than the preacher. And Mrs.Farn-
ham seemed to be in a completely different space, watching a completely different the-
atre of events that only she would be able to describe. Arlo made a mental note to find
more reasons to talk to the mayor.
At twelve noon the service ended with a final hymn and the congregation obedi-
ently exited. Arlo found himself struggling to find his pace in the crowd as if it were a riv-
er emptying onto the streets. When he was deposited onto the neatly manicured side-
walk, it took him a moment to get his bearings. As he stood trying to locate the gazebo
and his small truck, the mayor walked up to him with purpose.
Fred pretended to wait for his wife that was meandering down the church steps
as if it were a meticulous effort.
“So, you said your name was… Arthur?” Fred inquired.
“Arlo,”
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Arlo had the immediate instinct that the less the mayor knew about him the bet-
ter.
“Arlo… You move in somewhere around town?”
Arlo considered lying to the mayor since he was clearly being investigated.
“I’m renting a place on 43. Starting a micro greens business…”
“Micro-greens, what the hell is that? Fish food?”
Arlo was confused.
“No sir. Kale and arugula and mesclun.”
Fred considered what Arlo was saying with a manufactured pensive look.
“Mesclun… I’ve not ever heard of that.”
Arlo tried to sound knowledgeable, “Mesclun and Arugula are on almost every
salad at any of the fine dining restaurants in town. Do you eat much downtown?”
Fred chucked Arlo on the back with his calloused palm, “I’ve got everything I
need, except for the lake house and the beach house, right here in Epic. You ever been
deep sea fishing? I love deep sea fishing. I got a beach house so the wife has a place to
stay when I go fishing.”
At that moment, Mrs. Farnham joined them, looking into her husband’s eyes like
a viper.
“I’ve got a pot roast in the crock pot and it’s getting dry.”
Fred snapped to attention as if his one job in life was to make Mrs. Farnham
happy.
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“So nice to meet you, son. Good luck with your arugula. We love industry in this
town. Big and small,” said Fred as he tried to keep up with his wife who was bee-lining it
to a dark blue Buick.
Arlo paused on the sidewalk to watch the crowd from church disperse. He felt
alone but on the brink. The small town of Epic definitely had traffic, just hard to tell what
kind. He decided he would take a drive north of town and explore dirt roads along the
river.
The main highway heading north went past the power plant. The closer you ap-
proached the power plant, the trees blocked a good view of the billowing stacks. It was
not until he was at the wide gravel entrance that the magnitude of the operation came
into view. It was the size of a city block with columns jutting from a tangle of turbines,
wires and metal offices. Mountains of coal ash were heaped at one end of the football
field-size parking lot.
Past the power plant, the landscape opened up again into long stretches of cot-
ton and soybean fields. Arlo took a dirt road that cut back towards the river through a
smaller cotton field and up a hillside of pines. The road winded up the hillside and Arlo
hoped there would eventually be a view of the river and valley below. Instead, at the
crest of the hill he nearly ran into the back of a black suburban that appeared to have
swerved and ended up stuck in the ditch.
Arlo stopped to see if anyone needed help. As he pulled in front of the suburban,
he realized it was the same from the feedstore with the two women. He half-hoped to
run into the girl with the silver bracelets. She always seemed to be around when he was
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feeling at his worst, but something about her at the restaurant told him she was a good
source of information if he could ever get her talking.
There was no one in the suburban. He parked to investigate. As he walked
around the vehicle, he thought he heard a scratching from inside. He tried to peer
through the tinted windows.
A voice from the woods startled him.
“Hey!”
He turned and began to explain himself. The voice belonged to the other woman
who had been with the woman with the silver bracelets. She picked her way out of the
brambles and undergrowth with a half-grown bloodhound puppy drooping in her arms.
“I thought someone might be in trouble,” Arlo explained
The woman stood at a deliberate distance from Arlo. She had brown hair pulled
back in a loose ponytail. Her shorts revealed long tanned legs with nice muscling. She
seemed strong and athletic. But the puppy was heavy and Arlo could tell she was un-
comfortable with her entire situation.
“I’m fine. Just nearly hit this stray dog. He seemed in bad shape so I went looking
for him.”
Arlo approached the woman as if to get a better look at the dog, but she moved
deliberately towards the driver side of the car. He did not press the issue. He decided it
was probably best to leave the woman alone if he wanted to know her better. It was
clear to him that she would need to be towed out of the ditch and if she wanted his help,
she would ask for it. He returned to his truck.
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“Hey, you think you might be able to help me pull me out of this ditch. I have
some ropes.”
Arlo stopped and looked back at the suburban. The axle was broken from the
look of the wheel.
“I think you may have a broken axle.”
“Damnit!”
The woman set the scrawny bloodhound on the driver seat of the car and came
over to see what Arlo was looking at.
She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and dialed a number. Arlo watched her
with curiosity. She waited for someone to answer on the other line. There was irritation
and urgency in her face. She turned to him. There was obviously no answer on the oth-
er end. Arlo was her only answer.
“Do you live nearby? I could drive you home,” Arlo tried.
She shook her head. She returned to the suburban and turned the vehicle on to
roll down the windows so that the scrawny bloodhound puppy could get air. She exam-
ined the dog. His ribs jutted from his back bone like piano keys. The folds of skin around
his face seemed chafed and raw. His drooping ears were torn and bleeding from hours
running through the brambles. He seemed bewildered but happy to have the attention.
Arlo approached her to pet the dog.
“Really, I’m fine. In a few minutes, I’ll be able to get through to my boyfriend and
he will come get me,” she said.
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Arlo reached out to pet the dog in her lap. He felt her bristle at his closeness. He
tried to smile to reassure her that he meant her no harm. Then a deep throated growl
erupted from the back of the suburban.
“What the hell was that?”
“I don’t need your help,” she told him.
Arlo stepped away from the suburban. He had crossed an unintended line with
the woman and made himself unwelcome. Now he needed to figure out how to regain
her trust. And get to know her better.
“My name’s Arlo. I appreciated the water at the feed store. I don’t like leaving a
woman stranded on the side of the road by herself. I can wait in my car until you get
through to your boyfriend,” Arlo said hoping for her to protest.
“I know. Thanks. But I’ll be just fine.”
“And your name is…?”
She hesitated, “Hadley.”
Arlo nodded his head. He walked back to his truck to wait. Through the rear view
mirror, he had a view of Hadley sitting in her front seat. He pretended to read a seed
catalogue that he had picked up at the feed store. But he studied her. He had not
pressed her about what was in the back of her car, but if he waited long enough, he ex-
pected to be rewarded with some answers.
Hadley dialed on her cell phone every ten minutes for an hour. Arlo could sense
her growing frustration from his truck. There was not a cloud in the sky and the cars
were parked beyond the shade. The back of Arlo’s shirt was soaked with sweat. He
imagined the black suburban was even worse.
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Hadley got out of the suburban and went to the back of the vehicle. She opened
the hatch. Arlo wanted to follow her. Whatever she had in the back of the suburban was
the clue that was worth the sweat. But he knew she had to come to him. Otherwise she
would never trust him. She stayed with the hatch open for a half hour, then shut it and
returned to the driver side to make another call.
Around 4:00 p.m. Hadley set the bloodhound down on the road with a rope collar
and lead him over to Arlo’s truck. The bloodhound showed quick loyalty and barked at
Arlo.
“I think I am going to need your help after all. But I’m not really sure how we’re
going to do this,” she stood in the middle of the dirt road like an opening scene from a
movie. Damp whisps of hair stuck to her neck. Her eyes seethed with an unknown fire.
She had her hands in her shorts pockets as if they hid messages. Arlo was glad he’d
had the endurance to be patient and wait.
“Just hop in and tell me where you live,” he said trying to tamp down his excite-
ment.
“No. It’s not that simple,” she told him after he started his little truck. She walked
back to her suburban with the hound in tow.
He left the truck running and followed. Hadley walked to the back of the subur-
ban. Arlo could sense that she had resigned herself that she had to let him into her se-
cret. He was thrilled.
Hadley opened the back,
“She has to come with us.”
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Of all the things that Arlo expected, what he saw in the back of the truck took him
completely by surprise.
“Let me be perfectly clear. I am not going to answer any questions. You offered to
help me out. I’m taking that at face value,” Hadley explained.
In the suburban was a steel crate that took up the entire back of the vehicle. In-
side that steel crate was a lion cub. Arlo imagined she was around 3 months old. But
he’d never seen a lion cub in person so that was a guess. She looked at Hadley with
expectation in her giant sand colored eyes, then to Arlo with questions. The cub’s mouth
was open and her tongue curled in her mouth as she panted. Arlo noticed her white
fangs, small but sharp. The situation was a lot more complicated than a skinny blood-
hound and a pretty woman.
Hadley unlocked the cage and slipped a wide leather collar onto the cub’s neck.
The lion cub pawed at her hands gently as she worked.
“She’s getting overheated and she needs water.”
“Yeah, Been there, kitty. Alabama humidity is a bitch,” Arlo nervously joked, “How
are we supposed to take her with us?”
“She can ride with me in my lap,” Hadley explained as she encouraged the cat to
jump down beside the interested bloodhound puppy.
Arlo looked at the single cab of his small truck that was looking even smaller.
“All of us in the front seat?”
Hadley nodded. She was watching the interaction between the lion cub and the
bloodhound. After a few sniffs, they seemed to acknowledge that they all were in the
same situation- oppressive heat and a challenge about where to go next.
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Arlo decided he could handle the situation. The two animals and two humans
climbed into the front seat of his truck. Arlo asked for directions. Hadley pointed straight
ahead. They continued down the dusty dirt road. The bloodhound and lioness cub be-
gan to wrestle as soon as they decided neither was a threat to the other. Arlo tried to
trust this would all add up somehow.
The dirt road wound through pine groves and turned parallel to the river. Hadley
was silent except for directions. Something heavy settled over her and Arlo got the
message that he needed to pretend he had never come across Hadley and her lion cub
and now her bloodhound. He smiled to himself. Epic was getting more interesting by the
hour.
The dirt road finally ended at a large metal gate. Arlo stopped the car and looked
over at Hadley for what was next. She held the lion cub tight against her and stared
straight ahead as if she was trying to make a decision.
“Have you ever just wondered what the hell is it all supposed to mean?” Hadley
seemed to be speaking to herself, “I mean... like you make a series of decisions and
then you find yourself somewhere you never imagined you could be, doing things you
never imagined you would do.”
Arlo looked straight ahead at the gate as if somehow he could see what she
was seeing.
“And things start happening and you see yourself but you don’t recognize
yourself. And you wonder what is next,” Hadley looked over at Arlo as if he had seen
what she saw. He had no idea what she was talking about but he did not want to admit
that. He nodded hoping she would give him more information.
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“I can walk the rest of the way,” Hadley opened her door and allowed the dog
and lion to jump down beside her.
Arlo tried to think of a way to accompany the pretty woman with the lion and
bloodhound. But as she opened and shut the gate behind her, he knew he had gotten a
lot closer than he ever could have by intention. The choice to attend church had been
the right one. It had started a chain of events and given him more information. As
Hadley disappeared into the hot shade of the pines, he realized he understood exactly
what she was trying to say. He wished he could follow her and tell her that he didn’t
think they were ever supposed to completely understand fate.
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Chapter 7 - The White Rhino
As Hadley walked the road to the farmhouse, she went over in her mind how she
would explain the series of events that led her to leave the farm with Calliope. She
hoped that Simon would not notice the bloodhound. She knew she was walking into a
storm, difficult to explain the reasons for and surely about to be changed by.
Calliope was becoming fast friends with the bloodhound puppy. The two obedi-
ently followed Hadley with occasional swipes across her path. The farm was at least a
mile through this section of timber land. At least they all were getting their exercise.
As she had walked away from Arlo’s truck, she had wondered what he was think-
ing. Simon was emphatic that they should never talk about the animals with locals. He
insisted that there were too many addicts in the area that would try to figure out how to
steal and profit off the animals. Or just simply hunt them for the sake of a crazy trophy.
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Now Hadley had given a local direct experience with Simon’s prized animal. He would
definitely lose it when he found out what happened.
So, she just would not tell him. She would make up a story about how she
walked back when she couldn’t reach him on the phone. About that… reaching him on
the phone...
Hadley spun the story in her head as her feet crunched along the chert road. She
wanted Calliope to get exercise. It was painful to watch the growing cat pace her narrow
cage. Hadley thought she could find an area to take her running. The dirt roads along
the river seemed like a simple option, away from people.
But she knew Simon would find this absurd. He would bring up the danger, the
irresponsibility, the stupidity of taking the cat off the farm. The truth was, she wanted
Simon to hear her. She wanted Simon to recognize she was her own person, not just
another animal he had trapped and held captive on the farm. She and Calliope could
leave anytime they wanted. She wanted him to miss them. She wanted him to create a
real place for them.
By the time the ostrich runs were in sight, the sun was lower than the height of
the pines. The road was deep in shadows and shafts of light whirred with flies and dust.
Hadley decided she would put the bloodhound in an empty stall for the night. It was bet-
ter if she dealt with the bloodhound separately from the wrecked suburban and her drive
with Calliope. She took the road that veered towards the barns instead of the drive to
the house. Lobo and Simon were building new sheds on the right side of the barn and
had started a stone wall paddock that would connect to the new sheds. As Hadley ap-
proached the barns, she could hear two male voices loudly discussing the wall.
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“It’s a goddamn baby. It ain’t going to tear the barn down,”
Hadley recognized the South African accent. It was Mister Durban.
“Mister Simon says another month,” Lobo’s voice tried to remain calm.
“Well, we ain’t got another fuckin’ month. The shipment arrives next week. So get
the paddock finished. It doesn’t need a savannah, it needs a stall.”
Mister Durban’s voice trailed as he rounded back into the barn. Hadley stood off
to the side, hoping that Calliope and the bloodhound stayed quiet and unnoticed. Cal-
liope collapsed at her feet panting. The lion cub was not used to this much exercise.
She also had not had any water since morning. Hadley avoided Mister Durban and
found a hose and small bucket.
Lobo walked around the half-finished wall. Hadley noticed the worry lines on his
forehead. His shirt was soaked from a day of work and he looked ready for a beer. Lobo
did not work after dark unless he had a beer in his hand.
“Lobo, where’s Simon?” Hadley’s voice caught him off guard.
“En su casa,” Lobo was clearly distracted by his conversation with Mister Durban.
He continued in the direction of the work shed as if talking was more trouble than it was
worth. Hadley finished watering Calliope and the bloodhound. She thought about a
name for the hound as she rubbed the loose skin around its long torn ears. She consid-
ered sticking with the Greek theme. He looked like a Homer. She led him into the barn.
He sniffed at the cages along the wall. His sensitive nose twitched at the kaleidoscope
of scents. At the end of the hall of small cages, Hadley and Homer noticed a larger cage
at the same time. A large black shadow lurked heavily at the back of the cage. As they
got closer the shadow began to vibrate and thrum. It was a porcupine and it was warn-
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ing them to stay back. Hadley tried to pass quickly but Homer’s curiosity got the best of
him and he pulled her towards the angry creature. He stood back a few feet and barked
at the vibrating porcupine. Suddenly, Calliope jumped forward at the cage with claws
extended and deep hiss from her throat. The porcupine bristled and flinched against the
back of the cage. Hadley pulled the cat hard away from the porcupine and Homer fol-
lowed as if the game was fun but only if everyone was willing to play..
Hadley found an empty stall next to Destiny’s horse. The horse leaned its head
over the stall wall to sniff the dog. The lion cub jumped up on the stall wall and the horse
jumped back with a snort. Hadley worked quickly to set a bucket of water down for the
dog. She needed to get Calliope back in her cage.
Hadley struggled to pull Calliope up to the farmhouse. As if the approaching night
invigorated her, the cub ricocheted from one end of the line to the other. Hadley tried to
keep her close but the cub wanted to play and would cross in front of her and throw up
her paws as if Hadley would be more fun wrestled to the ground. Hadley was out of
breath by the time she got to the porch.
She opened the front door and sensed before seeing that Simon was not alone in
the house. Simon sat at the kitchen counter in clean shorts with no shirt on. He ap-
peared to have recently showered. He was reading from his laptop. He looked up with
empty eyes when Hadley entered the house. A moment later Destiny walked out of the
bedroom with newly washed hair. She was wearing a pair of Hadley’s pants and one of
Simon’s t-shirts.
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“Well, well, well… the lionesses have returned from the hunt,” The ire crept into
Simon’s voice.
Hadley defended herself even though she would rather confront Simon about
Destiny’s presence in their house.
“Calliope needs exercise. I thought I would take her running out by the pine
groves,” Hadley explained.
Simon looked to Destiny who looked back at Hadley without emotion.
“Your horse arrived,” Destiny said helping herself to the refrigerator of beer.
“My horse?” Hadley asked
Simon looked back at Hadley, “Yeah, the one you sweet talked out of Frank. Or
don’t you remember. She was so high she can’t even remember ordering a thorough-
bred.”
Hadley walked Calliope past Simon and Destiny. She needed a break from the
cat. She worked to get the cat water and dinner. Meanwhile, Destiny and Simon sat
around the counter drinking beer.
“I wasn’t high. I may have been drunk on that crazy pink liqueur,” Hadley noticed
how Simon and Destiny shared a look, “But I remember the conversation. I had no idea
he was serious.”
“Well, she’s skinny as hell. We should probably put her out of her misery and
feed her to Calliope,” Simon joked. This was not his first beer. He had been drinking all
afternoon from the callousness in his voice.
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Destiny did not laugh. She looked Hadley in the face, direct without mercy. One
thing Hadley had figured out about Destiny was that she operated with no regrets. And
she cared about the animals more than people.
“The horse is in rough shape. But I can show you how to bring her back. When
they quit running on the track, they don’t give a damn about them anymore. At least
that’s the way Rachel Chenowith operates. They are expendable.”
“So Hadley, your boyfriend, wants you to have his leftovers,”
“Simon, you’re drunk,” Hadley said as she grabbed herself a beer, “So you guys
have been hanging out drinking all afternoon… and getting showers.”
“Give me a break, Hadley. This farm doesn’t build itself by magic. Destiny, Lobo
and I have been slaving away at that damn rhino wall. We were soaked with sweat and
wanted a shower. Meanwhile you were out jogging with your white lion cub. By the way,
where’s the suburban? I didn’t hear you drive up.”
Hadley sat across the counter from Simon and drank half her beer in one chug,
“Rhino wall? So what now, Mr. Durban is bringing in a rhino? Do you have any idea how
difficult it is going to be able to handle a rhino on this farm? Or are we just building the
fucking Ark and God will take care of us?”
Destiny looked through the refrigerator for something to eat. She found a tupper-
ware container with chicken salad. She opened and sniffed at it. She put it back and
grabbed a wedge of cheese.
Hadley tried to choose her words carefully in spite of the irritation and confusion
that was growing in her chest.
“I accidently ran it into a ditch.”
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“You what?”
“I think the axle is broken,”
Simon sobered with fury, “You have to be kidding me. You take Calliope on a joy
ride and wreck our animal transport vehicle. Where the hell is it? Hadley, no one saw
you with Calliope did they?”
At that moment Hadley needed to make a choice- did she offer Simon honesty
without the expectation of the returned favor? Or did she try to beat him at his own
game of secrets and half-truths?
“It’s a couple miles away. Calliope and I got plenty of exercise.”
“Did anyone drive past you?”
“No.” Hadley looked Simon in the eyes with answers like cold meat for dinner.
Simon looked away to the cheese that Destiny was devouring,
“Well... I gotta take Destiny home. We can check on the suburban tomorrow.”
“You never answered my question about the rhino?”
Simon brushed Hadley’s question off with a simple answer, “Durban’s got this
idea of rhino farming. It’s a tangent. But Frank wants Durban to take Rachel off his
hands, so he’s indulging him.”
“Rhino farming? That makes no sense. Is there a big market in rhinos for
zoos?”
Simon closed his laptop. He had mustered up a bit of sobriety through the
course of the argument, “Not zoos. Pharmaceuticals. You are willfully naive sometimes
Hadley. It’s cute at first. Then it’s just dangerous.”
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Simon turned away from Hadley to get his car keys. Destiny followed. The two
walked out of the farmhouse without saying another word to her. No apologies or expla-
nations. Hadley wanted to cry but there was nothing but anger in her body, pure and
vindictive.
After Simon left, Hadley sat at the counter and finished her beer. Her mind was
a cascade of broken thoughts and reflections. The drive with Calliope was not about ex-
ercise, it was about the freedom to come and go in any way she wanted. It was a test to
see whether she could create her own life again. And the test had failed. She was un-
willing to accept that now she was just a subject to whatever Simon had in store for her.
But the evidence was damning. Destiny and Simon could do whatever they wanted. She
was relegated to be the audience and the documentarian. And apparently there was no
getting out.
But she had Calliope, a growing force to be reckoned with, that saw Hadley as
her leader. Though one day that too would be at question. And there was Homer now.
And then there was the new thoroughbred that Frank had given her. She was not alone
and somehow she felt that Frank had noticed what she needed- a stake in the farm.
She decided to go down to the barns and look for the thoroughbred. It was her respon-
sibility now to bring the animal back to better health.
The barns were dark with early evening. A halogen light hung above the main
entrance to the barns. It glowed a cold blue collecting moths into its halo. Hadley avoid-
ed walking down the main hall with all of the caged animals and the angry porcupine.
The sound of cowering animals in the dark corners of their cages hung heavy on
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Hadley’s heart. She could not do anything about the animals except bring them slices of
fruit and honey crusted peanuts. It was not enough exchange for their freedom. She un-
derstood. She wished she could tell them.
Instead Hadley slipped through the gate to the pasture that extended out from
the barn. She heard the zebras munching hay beside the camels in the dark paddock,
wild silhouettes domesticated by an easy meal. She walked the length of the barn and
found the back entrance. She knew there were a couple empty stalls at this end of the
barn and she assumed this was where they left her thoroughbred.
Hadley found a light switch just inside the barn doors. The barn filled with
tungsten warmth. Hadley walked along the stalls to the left. In the third stall from the
end she found her gift.
A gaunt shadow of a horse stood against the back wall of the stall. When
Hadley stopped in front of the stall door, the horse’s ear flicked in her direction but oth-
erwise the head never moved. Hadley could tell the horse was running on reserve pow-
er. The horse was all sharp angles, shoulders like knives against her sinewy neck.
Hadley waited for the horse to take an interest in her. Destiny’s horse always showed at
least a minimum amount of curiosity about what the human might have. This horse was
different. She did not care that Hadley was at the stall. She might not care about any-
thing.
Hadley opened the stall door. The horse lifted its head and looked at her. As
Hadley approach the filly, the horse’s ear flicked back and she shook her head, a weak
protest of any attention. Hadley did not recognize all of the body language but she felt
the filly resist her touch. Hadley stopped a few feet away. The filly lifted her head again,
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as if the recognition of her own space was enough for her to take an interest in Hadley.
She stepped over to Hadley and looked at her with both eyes. Hadley started to ap-
proach her again, and the filly stepped back against the wall, ears pinned.
“She no like people,”
It was Lobo’s turn to surprise Hadley. He stood at the stall door with a beer in
his hand. He watched Hadley try to pet the horse.
“She have a hurt leg. You see there…?” Lobo pointed at her front left leg. Lobo
entered the stall and approached the filly with intention. She pinned her ears and shook
her head more vigorously at Lobo, but he walked up to her without incident. He handed
his beer to Hadley and ran his hand down the fragile frame of the horse. He picked up
her left leg and rested her hoof in his hand. He waved for Hadley to come closer. Cau-
tiously, Hadley followed direction. She felt the horse’s resistance in her whole body.
Lobo ran his hand down the tendons at the back of the leg. Hadley tried to see
what he saw. He roughly took her hand and ran it down the leg. She felt the warmth like
a small fire in the fibers that held the filly together. But she was not sure what she was
feeling. He dropped the foot and took her hand down the other foreleg.
“Tiene inflammación en su pata.”
Hadley understood inflammation. She felt the horse’s legs again and recog-
nized the difference between the two. When she compared them, she realized that the
left leg bowed out behind the knee more than the right.
“What can I do?” Hadley asked.
“Hielo… ice,” Lobo said. He tried to teach Hadley some Spanish in every con-
versation. Today her word would be ‘hielo’.
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Lobo walked out of the stall. As soon as he left, Hadley felt the filly tense up at
her. She tried to run her hand down the filly’s side like she had seen Lobo do. The coat
was slick with very fine hairs, but the body beneath was shallow with more bone than
muscle. The filly bent her neck around at Hadley and before she knew it, took a good
hard nip at Hadley’s side. Hadley reacted instantaneously without thought, slapping the
mare hard across the neck. The horse turned her head straight ahead, but her eye
watched Hadley with a distant, satisfied expression.
Lobo returned with a tall pickle bucket full of ice and water. He entered the stall
ignoring the filly’s protests and deftly picked the leg up and dropped it into the bucket.
The filly resisted standing in the bucket but Lobo rubbed her neck and insisted. The
horse seemed to submit and actually relax to Lobo’s confident handling. Hadley took
note. This might be her biggest challenge on the farm.
“Esta yegua no tiene respeto por la gente,” Lobo said as he walked out.
“What does that mean, Lobo? No hable Español…”
“Respeto… respect. No respect. The people not nice to her. She not nice to
people. Cuidado.”
Hadley knew what ‘cuidado’ meant. Lobo had said it many times to her around
the animals. He tried to protect her from her naïveté. Simon was more entertained by it.
Hadley stood by the filly rubbing her shoulder gently to keep her leg in the
bucket. The filly’s pinned ears eventually shifted forward and she took a deep breath.
Hadley removed the horse’s leg from the bucket after 10 minutes and rubbed the water
off her tendon. It felt cooler. She scratched the horse’s cheek bone and tried to reassure
her that she was in better hands. The filly offered little reaction. It would be a long road.
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Hadley did not speak to Simon when he returned that night. She ignored him,
like a mosquito in the room you just can’t kill. She went to bed soon after he came home
and was glad he stayed up late on his computer. The silence lasted a week. But Hadley
was not invisible. Instead she took a new interest in everything that was going on. She
was in the barns regularly now taking care of the filly. Destiny followed through on her
promise to show Hadley how to care for the horse. She showed Hadley how to make a
poultice from clay and peppermint oil and at night she showed Hadley how to wrap cel-
lophane around an herbal paste on the leg that she promised would help knit the
swollen fibers back together. She insisted that Hadley walk the thoroughbred up and
down the road several times a day to give her exercise. But she was not to let the filly
out in the paddock. Destiny insisted the only way to properly heal the leg was controlled
walks.
As the filly gained strength and muscle, she became increasingly hard to walk.
Hadley frequently found herself spinning in circles trying to slow the filly down. On sev-
eral occasions she nearly lost hold of her as the filly reared on her hind legs and tried to
pull away. But the routine seemed to be working. The filly now accepted treats from
Hadley’s hand and would allow her to scratch her withers without pinning her ears.
Simon never said anything about the bloodhound. Homer regularly walked with
Hadley and the filly. But his favorite time was when Hadley brought him inside to play
with Calliope. The two wrestled like brother and sister and neither ever seemed to hurt
the other.
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A week after the suburban wreck, Lobo and Simon completed the rhino pad-
dock. It’s was a five foot work of masonry that extended out from the shed a hundred
feet on both sides. The bird building completed the far end of the paddock. Lobo creat-
ed a vertical steel post escape passage on one end of the paddock. On the other end of
the paddock was an iron gate made from an old estate entrance gate. They all said a
prayer that this enclosure would work for the baby rhino.
The baby rhino came on a transfer trailer pulled behind a red truck with a sign
on the side that read, “Kismet Trucking”. The tractor trailer struggled to navigate the
farmyard driveway and nearly took out several trees turning around. The trailer was a
simple metal box with air vents along both sides. When Hadley saw it, she imagined
that when this company was not transporting illicit rhinos, they were likely transporting
illegal immigrants. It all seemed very nefarious. But Destiny pointed out to Hadley at a
moment when she voiced her concern that it was better for them to be taking care of the
rhinos than somebody with the Cartel. Destiny had a way of always comparing what
they were doing as a lot better than the Cartel. Hadley found this cold comfort.
The driver of the truck walked to the back of the truck with Simon and Lobo. He
had not been told what he was transporting and he was very curious. Simon treated the
curious driver with icy formalities. He would have preferred if the driver just stayed in the
truck.
Simon and Lobo considered how they were going to unload the rhino. There
was no way to handle the rhino except through a cattle chute set up. They insisted the
driver back the truck up to the paddock. Finally they managed to lower a ramp with
sides through the iron gate and Simon entered the truck to unload the rhino. Everyone
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stood with anticipation at the bottom of the ramp. Finally a series of heavy footfalls
pounded down the ramp and a young rhino charged into its paddock. The driver stood
at a distance with his jaw dropped.
“So you guys are like some wild animal sanctuary?” The driver asked Hadley.
Hadley answered dismissively, “Something like that.”
Hadley walked over to Simon’s side where he stood looking over his newly
built wall. The young rhino sniffed the perimeter of his paddock. He discovered the alfal-
fa hay in one corner of the shed and made himself at home devouring the alfalfa.
“Pharmaceuticals?” Hadley asked Simon in amazement. It was the first words
she had spoken to Simon in a week. He looked over to her with a softness in his voice
that caught Hadley off guard.
“I think we are protecting the rhinos by breeding them and removing the horn
without harming the animal. The horn is used in medicine. This is the beginning of Dur-
ban’s investment in the farm.”
“That beautiful animal will one day be maimed for human medicine?” Hadley
asked in disbelief.
Simon took Hadley gently by the shoulders. He searched her eyes for under-
standing.
“Hadley, this isn’t Eden. Human medicine, human industry, human purpose.
The future of most of these animals lies in how useful they are to humans. The black
rhino is vanishing. By creating an industry around its survival, there is hope for its sur-
vival. Humans may say they care about animals… but in the end, it’s just about what an
animal can do for them. “
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Simon released Hadley's shoulders and stepped away as if the work never
ended and he was the only person to finish the job. Hadley watched him walk away. It
was possibly the kindest most horrific thing that Simon had ever said to her. She took a
deep breath. She hated and loved Simon. But most of all she realized she was commit-
ted. For better or worse, she had become inextricably entwined in the farm. She knew it.
Simon knew it. Lobo and Destiny knew it. But most importantly of all, Frank knew it.
That night Hadley had a dream. In the dream she was cleaning the shed where
the black rhino slept. The black rhino walked the edge of the paddock looking for some-
thing. Suddenly an elephant's trunk appeared over the wall. The elephant reached out
and touched the rhino’s horn. When it did, the rhino’s horn turned to gold. There was
suddenly the sound of galloping hooves. Mounted horsemen appeared on the far side of
the wall from the elephant. They clearly wanted the gold horn. But the rhino stood up on
his hind legs and was transformed into a man. This man climbed the wall where the
elephant stood. He climbed on to the elephant and rode away.
Hadley woke suddenly from the dream. Her heart was racing as if she were the
one being pursued. She closed her eyes and there beneath her lids were the elephants.
Majestic and waiting.
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Chapter 8 - The Garden Spider
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When Shiloh’s father said the word, ‘war’, Shiloh immediately pictured a garden
spider, on the edge of the woods with a web that stretched between the arms of the oak
trees, elaborate filaments of stickiness, deer flies pulsing inside cocoons, light reflecting
in luminescent patterns that from certain angles were often invisible until too late when
the unknowing victims were entangled and approached by the giant insect. Shiloh had
seen these spiders almost as large as the palm of her hand. They were brilliantly col-
ored in black and yellow, suspended over the forest floor like royalty in an insect's body.
Shiloh’s father only said the word ‘war’ when he was fighting with her mother.
When he said the word it was often sarcastic, mocking her mother who mentioned it
first. The ‘war’ was the reason her mother said everything else had gone wrong. Like a
spider on the edge of the field it had ensnared her father in a web of days where he sat
on the couch in a paralysis only interrupted by her mother’s coming and going.
To escape the paralysis, her father played video games. He became an alien
crusader destroying interstellar monsters, or a soldier again, strategically navigating a
maze of homes in the desert, gunning down terrorists. Sometimes Shiloh would sit on
the couch with him watching his intensity. He was so alive, vibrating with force, that she
couldn’t imagine how he could be caught in the web so helpless.
Shiloh spent a lot of time with her father. At least they were in each other’s pres-
ence, hearing each other's heartbeats. When she could not take being stuck inside any
longer with the imaginary spider, she went looking for the real thing.
The real garden spider loved Shiloh's visits. When she came to see the spider’s
latest creation, the mistress of the web would frequently show off, inviting Shiloh as
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close as she could come to see the wagon wheel designs sewn tight with thick zig zags
that the garden spider told Shiloh were the harp strings of her heart.
Shiloh would sit beneath the Queen of So Many Mysteries and ask her all about
the wisdom Shiloh’s mother insisted was hidden in the forest. The queen would medi-
tate for long stretches before she answered the child. She told her the most important
lesson of the wilderness was learning to listen. Shiloh heard this. She promised the
queen that she would not talk again. She would only listen until the day came when she
knew she had heard enough wisdom to share it, like her mother shared her wisdom with
everyone but her father.
Shiloh’s mother learned her wisdom from the wilderness. She told Shiloh that
God had provided all of the cures for all of the illnesses on earth out in the wilderness.
That was why Jesus stayed in the wilderness for so long. God was testing him. God
was teaching him the wisdom to heal everyone. The Queen of So Many Mysteries con-
firmed this. Deep in the woods all of the animals talked. The trees talked. The rivers
talked. The insects talked. But most humans were terrible listeners. They only wanted to
hear other humans talk and mostly about things that had nothing to do with God. Shiloh
only wanted to hear about God and the garden spider loved to tell her everything she
knew.
The Queen of So Many Mysteries said wars are about human ideas. She pointed
out that you never see a group of animals go to war with another group of animals. This
made a lot of sense to Shiloh. She wished she could explain this to her father. She
wanted him to hear that war had nothing to with the important things. It was just a job
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and it was over. But Shiloh knew he did not believe that. The war would never be over
for him. And Shiloh wanted to know why.
The closest she ever came to understanding why was when he took her to the
firing range. He went religiously every Friday. He said it was his patriotic duty to practice
his shooting. And one day he might save her life with his gun skills. Shiloh knew that
she didn’t need a gun to protect her but she did not say anything. She just listened. And
the more she listened, the less she ever wanted to talk.
When Shiloh watched her dad shoot his gun, she saw him become somebody
that could act and accomplish things. He was a good shooter and he hit the target al-
most every shot. She understood that being good at something made people who they
were. Her father spent a lot of time not knowing who he was anymore. Shiloh under-
stood this better than her mother did. Actually Shiloh was pretty sure her mother didn’t
care anymore who her father wanted to be. She just wanted him to be different than
who he was. This made Shiloh sad but she only explained this to the garden spider.
Shiloh remembered the day her mother quit caring if her Dad was ever going to
get better. It was a Saturday afternoon on the coldest day in February, a time when the
garden spider was not around to talk.
Shiloh had a shepherd dog that she got the year her father was away. He had
thick hair, pointy ears and a smile when you called his name. While her father was away
at war the shepherd dog slept in the house at the foot of her mother’s bed. When her
father came home, he insisted the dog smelled and needed to sleep outside beneath
the porch. Shiloh and her mother protested this but her father would not allow the dog
back inside. That was the first thing.
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The second thing happened on this day in February, when the shepherd dog
followed Shiloh’s mother to the road. Shiloh’s mother drove away and the shepherd dog
tried to follow. Shiloh saw the dog standing in the road watching her mother’s car. She
saw the truck coming down the road behind Shiloh’s mother’s car. And she saw the dri-
ver of the truck look and never slow down. The shepherd dog tried to get out of the road
but he did not have enough time. The truck knocked him into the ditch on the far side of
the road. Shiloh screamed and her father came out of their house in his boxer shorts.
The shepherd dog climbed out of the ditch in a daze. He tried to walk across the road
but his body wouldn’t follow. Shiloh’s father went back in the house. The shepherd dog
tried pulling his body home. Shiloh’s father came back out outside and told Shiloh to go
in the house. But Shiloh could not move. She felt caught in a web, paralysis complete.
She could only watch what was happening. Shiloh’s father went to the shepherd dog
who pricked his pointy ears at her father. Her father was carrying his gun he used on
Fridays when he went shooting on the range. And he shot the shepherd dog in the head
there on the driveway.
When Shiloh’s father turned and saw what Shiloh saw, his eyes went black. He
yelled at Shiloh in a way he’d never yelled at her before. She ran, afraid that the gun
that was supposed to protect her might next be pointed at her. She ran as fast and as
far as she could, deep into the cold woods. She found a place in a washed out creek
bed where she could hide between the exposed roots of a fallen oak tree. And she
stayed there for hours.
Shiloh doesn’t know what happened when her mother came home a couple
hours later. She imagines that her mother drove into the driveway and found the pretty
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shepherd dog lying with a bullet hole in his head. She imagines her mother bursting into
the house in a rage that only an evil witch of Satan could match. She imagines that her
father sat on the couch, playing video games, desperately trying to erase all the
tragedies he had witnessed. She imagines the house, which was actually an old church,
bursting into flames because God had come out in the woods with Shiloh to sit beneath
the tree. She imagines that somehow the flames did not burn down the church because
it was God’s house. And Satan’s witch left her mother alone and crying over the poor
shepherd dog before she buried it. And her father sat alone in that church that was their
house and regretted everything that ever happened in this world. She imagines it all
happening just like this. But she doesn’t know for sure. She only knows what God told
her beneath the tree. He told her to just be quiet and listen.
Shiloh’s mother found Shiloh before dark set in. As she walked her back to the
house that was a church, she told Shiloh that things happen that can’t be explained and
that their pretty shepherd dog was in a better place, where no trucks with unsympathetic
drivers existed. Shiloh wanted to believe her but she didn’t. Shiloh believed what her
dad’s eyes told her, that death was everywhere and it was sudden and inexplicable. She
wanted to get on the couch and play video games with her dad, not pretend with her
mother that there was some other reality that she just couldn’t see right now.
Shiloh’s mother gave up on her dad that day, but Shiloh didn’t. The Queen of
So Many Mysteries told Shiloh later that summer that she was a very smart girl. The
Queen of So Many Mysteries said that Jesus never gave up on anyone, and Shiloh was
learning in the wilderness the wisdom that Jesus learned. Shiloh was very thankful for
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the garden spider at the edge of the woods. She was the only one she could talk to, the
only one Shiloh trusted.
Chapter 9 - Peacocks
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Ever since he met Laylah, Brian had the inexplicable sense that he was being
watched or followed. He knew this was ridiculous. He wanted to talk with his therapist
about it but she had canceled his last two sessions. He had not seen Laylah since their
encounter in the grocery store. That was almost two weeks ago. He was not sure he
would ever see her again, actually. And the memory of that day was like a glimmer of
something else, relief from the repetitive normalcy that made him feel like the walking
dead.
Brian avoided Hadley’s calls. She called him twice since his encounter with Lay-
lah, and although he didn’t want to admit it, he wanted to substitute his need to talk to
her with someone like Laylah. Laylah somehow felt like a safer fascination. Hadley was
always complicated. So many unidentified emotions and crossed wires were not good
for a person as full of crossed wires as Brian. He needed simple and new. But Laylah
left no trail to follow.
The third time Hadley called, Brian decided to answer the phone. He was being a
bad friend and in all honesty as old and complicated as his friendship with Hadley was,
she was fairly new to his current life. Crossed wires from twenty years ago should not
really count. Hadley said she was coming into town and wanted to get together. She
had a lot she needed to talk to him about. This baffled Brian. How could they have a lot
to talk about after two casual encounters in two decades. But her voice sounded urgent.
She was coming into town to do some research and she hoped he could meet her at the
Birmingham Zoo.
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Brian had not been to the zoo since his boys were toddlers. He had once been
invited to a benefit for the zoo with Marnie. She was not interested. She said it was cruel
to keep wild animals locked in cages and besides, it smelled. Brian had just as soon not
attend any benefit for anything if he didn’t have to. So the zoo was a foreign land that
was a ten minute walk from his apartment.
The day that Hadley wanted to meet was a Friday afternoon. Brian usually picked
up his boys for dinner on Friday nights, and if he could talk them into it, a movie. Brian
was reluctant to rearrange things because his routine made everything easier. But
Hadley sounded like she was asking for this meeting for a good reason. He called his
boys and rescheduled their dinner and movie for Sunday afternoon.
Brian took Friday off from work and walked from his apartment to the zoo. Once
he got past the busy intersections of Mountain Brook Village, the walk was along a wide
sidewalk that wound along the perimeter of the botanical gardens on one side of the
road and the buffer land for the zoo on the other side. He rarely thought about these two
landmarks that he passed on a daily basis, but now walking between them both, it oc-
curred to him that they were a wooded oasis in a sprawling suburbia. He wondered
about the history of the animals and flowers and the land that had obviously been set
aside to house the collections. He wondered about the collection of birds that had been
right beside him, that he had never taken the time to visit. Suddenly he recognized that
glimmer of something else, that connection to a “Big Picture” that was not nearly as in-
timidating as daily life.
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Brian payed his admission fee and picked up a brochure about current and future
exhibits. He walked past the snack food stands and children’s water games following
the map to the Trails of Africa exhibit where he agreed to meet Hadley.
He found a bench overlooking the several acre lot where 4 elephants meandered
between tree stumps and dirt ravines. He watched a smaller elephant approach the
largest elephant with his wrinkled trunk extended. The larger elephant gently pushed the
smaller elephant’s trunk away. The smaller elephant was not deterred. He returned and
raised his trunk, exposing his tusks to the larger elephant and pressing against him. The
larger elephant raised himself on a tree stump and forced the smaller elephant back
from his pedestal. The power struggle continued in an unthreatening but systematic way
while Brian waited.
“Do you ever bring your boys to the zoo?” Hadley asked as she walked up the
concrete trail to the bench where Brian was sitting.
Brian stood up to give Hadley a light hug.
“I brought them once when they were small. They are not very interested in ani-
mals. Just sports and friends,” Brian started to sit back down but Hadley gestured for
them to walk.
“I only remember going to the zoo twice as a child. Once with my mom, who ba-
sically pulled me along on a world wind tour so that she could say she had taken her
daughter to the zoo. The other time was with my second grade class. I remember the
monkey island. The monkeys held their hands between the bars and we threw peanuts
at them. They always looked the other way as if they were embarrassed by their beg-
ging.”
156
“I think it’s still here. It’s on the map,” Brian handed Hadley the map.
Brian noticed that Hadley walked with purpose as if she wanted to show him
something. She had her long brown hair down around her shoulders and she wore a
loose white cotton shirt and khaki shorts. She wore flip flops that slapped the bottom of
her feet as she took swift steps towards the rhino and hippo house.
Brian was amused by Hadley’s intensity. He couldn’t imagine what possibly could
be at the rhino house that was so important.
“I really never gave zoos much thought before I moved to the farm. I had a vague
opinion that animals were sad in cages and I would rather see them on the savannah or
in the jungle. But really, when are most people ever going to go to some distant country
to see lions or giraffes?”
Hadley slowed down as the path narrowed beneath some trees. She stopped
and looked at Brian. He was starting to sweat and he felt self-conscious of the armpit
rings that were forming beneath his arms.
“I thought you said you traveled in Africa and Asia?”
“I have. But mostly I photographed people, culture and dress, music and food. Of
course there were animals that I would see and photograph. But I really only thought
about the people. I never thought about what people did with the animals. Or how they
fed them or kept them up…”
Brian wanted to tell Hadley about watching the birds but she seemed like she
was on one of her thought trains, where if you got in the way, you were likely to get run
over.
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“Who pays for all of this?” Hadley spread her arms in every direction. “What do
they feed all of these animals that are far from their natural sources of nutrition? How do
the animals stay healthy and happy?”
The answers to Hadley’s questions seemed pretty obvious to Brian. It was a zoo,
that’s what they did. He wondered what all of this was about and how did he have any-
thing to do with it.
“Brian, this is my life now. It’s all I think about. It’s all I care about. I don’t know
who I am anymore. I need someone who knows me to make it all make sense.”
And with the last sentence barely out of her mouth, Hadley turned to Brian with
tears streaming down her face. He stood for a moment in confusion then opened his
arms and pulled Hadley close. She sobbed into his chest with heaving shoulders. A
mother and her two small children gingerly picked their way past the melodramatic
scene trying not to draw attention to themselves.
Just as suddenly as Hadley began, she stopped crying. She pulled back from
Brian and rubbed her face.
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry”
Brian was even more confused, “Sorry? For what?”
“I just unloaded on you.”
“Not exactly. I really don’t understand what this is about. But you obviously need-
ed a cry,” Brian hoped he didn’t sound dismissive.
Hadley found a bench near the entrance to the rhino and hippo house and sat
down. Brian sat down beside her and waited for an explanation. Hadley took a long time
to start.
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“I don’t know how to explain any of it. But something is happening to me and to
the world around me. I mean, there’s the farm and my involvement there. But there’s
something else. Inside of me. I see everything so differently than I did even 9 months
ago. I feel caught in a series of events that are sweeping me away. And I can’t figure out
how to stop things. I can’t figure out how to change course and I can feel myself chang-
ing.”
Brian wanted to tell Hadley that marriage was a lot like that. And having children.
And having a career. How had Hadley avoided all of these things for so long? Brian was
envious that Hadley spent the last two decades wandering around the globe observing
life from the outside. But he also felt vindicated to hear her now, so confused and help-
less. No one could avoid the “Big Picture” forever.
“It sounds like your relationship has gotten serious. You sound like you have cold
feet,” Brian said.
Hadley thought about this for a moment.
“I wish it were that simple,”
“Who said that was simple? Sometimes it’s not about how simple or complex
something is. It’s about how brave we are when handling it.”
“You don’t understand everything.”
Brian felt trapped the way he often did in conversations with women. It was like
he had missed part of the conversation. Maybe it was in the body language. Maybe it
was telepathic, the way a flock of starlings all moved in sync as they change directions.
But he was completely lost at what to say to Hadley. He felt a wave of frustration that
made him look away so as not to exacerbate the situation.
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When Brian looked back down the path from where they came, he noticed a
peacock surreptitiously making its way in their direction. Every few steps, it stopped and
pecked at a piece of trash along the sidewalk. Brian continued to watch the peacock as
Hadley explained her last month on the farm, her imagined infidelities between Simon
and Destiny, her increasing number of animals and the disturbing realization that the
farm was going to be used in some form of illicit pharmaceutical manufacturing. Brian
turned back to Hadley when she stated the last bit about illicit pharmaceuticals.
“Hadley, do you understand what you are telling me? You are in a very bad situa-
tion that can only get worse. Do you have any idea what the prison sentence for drug
manufacturing is?” Brian spoke under his breath as a young couple exited the rhino and
hippo building.
Hadley shook her head, “They aren’t manufacturing drugs on the farm,”
“Whatever. You’re caught up in something that I can promise you is highly illegal.
Felony-illegal. This isn’t like a cop catching you with marijuana in your car.”
Hadley kept shaking her head, “I don’t think it is… Yet.”
“What about these exotic animals? You think it’s legal to have a lion and a rhino
in your backyard in Alabama?”
“I’ve seen the permits. All of it is legal.”
Now it was Brian’s turn to shake his head.
“This is a bad direction you are going in. I know it. You should be asking yourself
these big existential questions. I told you that Frank Chenowith is not a person to get
involved with. There’s a reason he stays in his big river house.”
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Hadley stood up. Brian felt like she was about to dismiss him like a child at the
end of class.
“I have a steep learning curve, but I’m not going to leave those animals. I just
need to prepare myself better to take care of them. Caring for the animals is just a minor
detail to them. They are too busy collecting their menagerie. The only place you can
learn to take care of a rhino is at the zoo. So here I am,”
Hadley’s sudden pluckiness about the whole situation appalled and fascinated
Brian. He could not believe how impractical and in total denial she could be. It was so
absurd he laughed out loud. Hadley knew it was absurd. She laughed with him and
turned on her heels for her first lesson in rhino management.
Brian obediently followed.
“I’m pretty sure you are making most of this up,” he joked because the alternative
was to believe her and have it confirmed that life around Hadley was potentially worse
than any alcohol addiction.
Brian stood with Hadley watching the rhinos for over an hour. The rhinos wal-
lowed in a mud pit, chased a group of guineas out of their pen, and devoured several
flakes of hay that were thrown in around dinner time. Brian had to admit the care did not
seem that complex from outside of the enclosure. But Hadley and Brian both knew that
one hour of rhino watching was hardly a lesson in rhino management. While they
watched the rhinos, they talked about their shared memories from high school years.
Hadley reminded Brian that their first drinking experience together ended in her hugging
a toilet seat in a gas station on the outskirts of town. Brian reminded Hadley that she
161
always seemed to prefer guys with personal problems that made them mostly unavail-
able. Hadley reminded Brian that he always got her to do his book reports for him be-
cause he hated to read books. And Brian reminded Hadley that she was always trying to
be a character from a book as if her own identity was never quite good enough. He
asked her what character from a classic did she wish she was now.
As they left the rhino enclosures Hadley answered Brian.
“I can’t think of a character that has gone through something like my current situ-
ation. Maybe that’s why I am so freaked out by things.”
“What about Noah? He collected a bunch of animals.”
“Yeah, I’ve thought about that. But can’t say I can relate much to Noah. God told
him what to do. I wish God was talking to me,” Hadley laughed. Brian knew she had
never gone to church as a child and clearly from her response could only speak of God
with cynicism.
“Maybe he is and you just aren’t listening,” Brian joked. He liked the idea of God
talking to him too but like Hadley, he thought it an impossibility given his perspective.
“Seems like your situation is a lot like those animals. I bet they don’t know who
they are anymore either,” Brian told Hadley as they walked down the concrete walk to-
wards the entrance.
“Yeah. That’s part of the reason I could never leave the farm. I identify with them
too much. I feel like their future and my future are bound together.”
Brian thought about this for hours after he and Hadley parted ways in the zoo
parking lot. He had never thought about his life being bound to anything but himself. His
bond with his wife was tenuous from the beginning, and his bond to his children was not
162
much better. The only thing that he felt bonded to was drinking. And now severing those
bonds was an excruciating process peppered with fleeting moments of relief that he was
not destroying everyone around him.
Brian’s concern for Hadley was real but he knew he could not convince her of dif-
ferent choices. She was the kind of person that went headlong down a path the conse-
quences of which she would rationalize into some generic spiritual process of awaken-
ing. He admired her conviction and her resilience. But he swore to himself he would not
wait around to pick up those pieces.
This was the way that he explained it to his therapist when he finally got an ap-
pointment. The therapist commended him on his thinking but reminded him that thinking
one way and acting the same way were far from the same thing. After he explained the
situation with Hadley, he did not have much time to discuss the sensation of being
watched and followed. His therapist listened to his description of the feeling and she
asked him to keep track of when these sensations occurred, what events preceded the
feeling and how his behavior changed because of the feeling. They would talk about
what he recorded on their next visit.
A week after Hadley took Brian to the zoo, Brian decided to return alone. He
thought about asking his youngest son to come with him. But upon reflection, he real-
ized it was possible that his son would scoff at the idea and ruin the whole notion of be-
ing with the animals for Brian. For Brian returning to the zoo and the paths he took with
Hadley was a way to reflect on their conversation. She had reminded him of a lot of be-
163
ginnings. The beginning of his habits. The beginning of his drinking. The beginning of
his ideas about his role in the world. The beginning of his love for Hadley. The beginning
of his cynicism about any meaning beyond the most practical needs and desires.
The weather was overcast and humid. He felt thunderstorms moving in with the
rain laden, vertical cloud banks to the West. It was mid August and most of the kids
were back in school. A few mothers with toddlers wandered in the shade, shoving juice
boxes and cold yogurt packs from pocket book-size coolers into fat sweaty palms. Brian
made his way towards the elephant yard along the concrete path. He was better pre-
pared for the weather with running shorts and athletic shirt. He told himself the walk to
the zoo was about exercise as much as anything else.
As Brian walked the concrete path to the elephant yard, he began to feel the
sensation that he was being followed. He stopped and looked behind him. The peacock
he had noticed from his visit with Hadley ambled across the path pursuing an unlucky
grasshopper. He watched it catch the grasshopper, then pause to observe who was ob-
serving it. Brian remained still, hoping the peacock would come closer, instead a gum
wrapper caught its eye and it backtracked down the path.
Brian turned back towards the elephant yard and nearly ran over Laylah who was
hurriedly coming down the path. They both stepped back from each other in surprise.
Laylah was dressed in slender slacks and a tunic-like silk shirt. She looked formal for a
zoo visitor. She carried a binder in her arms that she nearly dropped in her surprise.
Brian shook his head as if he might be seeing things.
“What are you doing here?” They said simultaneously.
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Laylah’s smile was bright and beaming. Her perfect teeth flashed as she spoke
and Brian felt dazzled by their encounter.
She spoke again, “You aren’t here following birds again are you?”
Brian shook his head, then changed his story, “Well, not intentionally. Here they
follow me,” Brian turned to point out the peacock, but the peacock had moved off into
the bushes. Brian shrugged off the missing bird.
“Well, I told you fate would put us in the same place again. Or was it luck?”
Brian watched Laylah amazed, “Right… luck times three.”
“I like that. Luck times three.”
“So, what are you doing at the zoo? I thought you lived in a lab with rats or some-
thing,” Brian laughed.
Laylah held up her binder, “More research just on different animals.”
“They do research on the animals at the zoo?” Brian was disheartened by the
idea that the animals in the zoo were being used for clinical research.
“Actually, the zoo asked us to come in and help them with one of their lions who
seems to be experiencing a lot of nerve pain from an old injury. We have an experimen-
tal treatment for her that seems to be helping. I was just picking up data they have col-
lected for us.”
Laylah patted her binder as if it was a great comfort.
“Data… that’s what makes your world go round, isn’t it?” Brian meant it as a fun-
ny idea but his words came out like lead daggers.
Laylah’s smile disappeared. She pulled her shoulders back and stiffened.
“We scientists are like that. Data. Data. Data,”
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Brian could feel her leaving before she walked away. His heart sank. He made a
weak attempt to recover.
“That’s great that your research is helping animals. Maybe one day it will help
people like me.”
Laylah walked past Brian.
“Actually, I don’t think relief of pain is what you need,” her words hung in the air
as she turned and continued down the path, “Until next time, toodaloo.”
Brian stood on the concrete path feeling guilty. But for what he was not sure. His
purpose at the zoo somehow disappeared as Laylah vanished. He lost any sense of di-
rection at all. He might have stood on the path forever, guilt and insecurity anchoring
him with paralysis. But as he stood there, the peacock reappeared and followed in the
direction of Laylah’s track. Brian felt compelled to follow but as he caught up to the bird,
it turned on him. The peacock craned its bejeweled head high and in a sudden breath,
flared it’s brilliant tail feathers in an arc of emerald eyes.
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Chapter 10 - The Calico Cat
Arlo finished planting his garden by the second week of August. He was quite
proud of his handiwork. He carefully staked out rows north to south in his plot of tilled
land. He spent four days bent over pushing minuscule seeds three inches apart into the
loose, dark dirt. He even created a trellis at one end of his garden for snow peas that he
bought because one of his favorite meals was Chicken Fried Rice with Snow Peas. Arlo
did not know how to cook Chicken Fried Rice, but he decided if his snow peas grew he
was going to learn.
Now that the garden was set up, he decided it was time to score some drugs.
Arlo was finishing up the wire fencing around his garden, contemplating a drug scoring
strategy when a blue Buick pulled off the road and crept down his driveway. Arlo pound-
ed in the last t-post and walked over to the house to see who his visitor was. As he got
closer he recognized the car and its driver. It was the mayor, Fred Farnham. Several
weeks had passed since Arlo’s visit to the Baptist Church and he assumed that this
must be a product of that absence. Arlo imagined most small town churches kept up
with their visitors. He reflected that those were three big churches in town competing for
a relatively small pool of members. But Arlo was wrong. Fred Farnham was not interest-
167
ed in whether Arlo attended church. The mayor wanted to know more about who this
new stranger was.
Fred stepped out of the car and looked around the 10 acre farm with a critical
eye. He wore muddy cowboy boots, a loose-fitting, light-weight fishing shirt and jeans.
He swung a cowboy hat on his head and squinted up at the high sun as if they were en-
emies. Fred walked over to Arlo’s garden and put his thoughts together on the condition
of the farm.
“Emmett’s not had much luck renting his mother’s place out since she died. Last
fella was pretty bad off. Pills, you know. We got a problem with pill heads around here.”
Arlo tried to figure out if he was admitting to a problem or threatening to deal with
a problem. Regardless, Arlo did not want to spend a lot of time encouraging the Mayor’s
association of Arlo’s place and drugs. He did not need to blow his cover especially since
this mayor seemed so… well, strange.
“It’s the plague of rural America, I hear,” Arlo said as if he really had no idea.
“Yes sir, it is. I work pretty close with the Sheriff’s Department to keep an eye on
things,” Fred said looking Arlo in the eye.
“The people of Epic must be really glad you are their mayor,” Arlo was struggling
with how to respond to Frank since it was clear that he was very suspicious of him.
Fred shrugged his shoulders as if that were a given, “So what was that you said
you were planting, mescaline?”
“Arugula, kale and mesclun,” Arlo corrected.
Fred studied Arlo as if he was not sure what the difference was between what he
said and what Arlo said.
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“Hmmmm, that mescaline is what those hippies take in Mexico isn’t it, to have
visions? Don’t seem like cactus is gonna grow too well around here. And you sure it’s
legal to grow cactus.”
Arlo was totally confused, “No sir, I wouldn’t try to grow cactus is Alabama. I’m
talking about lettuces.”
Fred was not giving up his notion that Arlo was growing hallucinogenics but he
just nodded his head suspiciously.
Arlo desperately wanted to change the subject.
“You have any children?”
Fred narrowed his eyes as if this was a sore subject, “Children? I got a grand-
child. Why are you asking?”
Arlo struggled for an answer to the question, “Oh, I just meant do you have a lot
of family in town?”
Fred obviously did not like the conversation getting personal.
“A little,” Fred said looking back at the sun as if his time was almost up. He con-
tinued, “You should wear a hat in this sun. Skin cancer ain’t no joke.”
Arlo looked up at the sun. He imagined himself in a big white cowboy hat like
Fred’s. There were limits to his disguise he decided.
Something caught Fred’s eye by Arlo’s house.
“D’you see that? You got a cat?”
Arlo looked back to the house trying to figure out what Fred had seen.
“Nope. I don’t keep pets,”
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Fred hiked his jeans up on his hips, “Damn feral cats. You’d think there were
enough coyotes to rid the countryside of feral cats. But no. More feral cats. More coy-
otes. It’s a cycle. You know you can get a pellet gun and just shoot’em.”
“Shoot the coyotes? Or the cats?”
Fred found this very funny.
“Shoot the cats. You are a city boy. Hunting coyotes is not for amateurs,” Fred
turned back on Arlo, “Like hunting the cartel. You spend a lot of time looking for the
vermin but mostly you just follow up on their carnage.”
Fred shook the t-post of Arlo’s garden fence and it started to fall over.
“You better drive these in a little deeper, son. The deer around here are gonna
spot your lettuces and have a field day.”
With that piece of advice, Fred turned back around and walked to his car. Arlo
was left feeling unsettled. He wondered about the feral cat that Fred indicated was mov-
ing in beneath Arlo’s house. He tried to shove the t-post back into the ground, but in-
stead it completely fell over.
That night Arlo lay wide awake in his bed in the only room with a new air condi-
tioning unit. The temperature outside had not changed much from late afternoon to night
and the air conditioning unit hummed loudly. Arlo thought about the best way to make a
connection with a dealer. He was obviously on the mayor’s radar, but he did not want to
divulge his true purpose in town in case the mayor had a connection that he was hiding.
That was Arlo’s instinct, that the mayor had a connection that he was hiding with all of
his curiosity. As he lay there, in the unnatural cold, he heard a scratching sound beneath
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him. At first he thought it was the wind rattling the vinyl siding on the house. But it con-
tinued with a deliberate rhythm. He closed his eyes, trying to press the sound out of his
mind. It would not stop. Arlo turned over and pulled the pillow over his head. He refused
to get out of bed to check what the noise was. He had an idea but he preferred to ignore
it.
The next morning Arlo had a plan. He had a hunch that the girl with the silver
bracelets knew a lot about what went on in Epic. He had noticed that she had that
sense about her that she was looking for a way out of something, like she was testing a
lot of waters. But he could tell she was a force to be reckoned with, which intrigued Arlo.
He thought if he could somehow get to know her a little better, he could work this
awareness of her inner search to his advantage. Now, he just had to figure out a way to
connect.
The opportunity to connect happened two days later when Arlo stopped into the
feed store to buy a hose. He was standing at the counter making small talk with the
manager about the weather and accuracy of the Farmer’s Almanac when the girl with
the bracelets walked into the store. She was looking for cat food.
“You know much about cats?” Arlo casually asked her.
She looked at him as if this were a strange question.
“Why?”
“I think I have a couple feral cats beneath my house that are making a lot of
noise at night. I need to know how to catch them and get rid of them. The mayor told me
I should just shoot them with a pellet gun.”
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Destiny, Arlo remembered her name now, shook her head.
“The mayor would say something like that,” the derision in her voice at the word
‘mayor sparked Arlo’s curiosity.
“He seemed like he knew what he was talking about,” Arlo continued seeing if he
could get a rise out of her.
“He’s an asshole.” She said bluntly heaving a large bag of cat food on the
counter.
“Now Destiny. You shouldn’t talk about your father like that. It ain’t Christian,” said
the man behind the counter with a wry smile. Clearly Arlo was not the only one that
thought Destiny’s father, the mayor of Epic, Frank Farnham, was a peculiar fellow.
“He can go to church every Sunday for the rest of his life and it won’t change that
he’s a selfish, lying bastard,” Destiny said flatly, “If he’s Christian, I’m glad not to be.”
Destiny pulled a wad of cash from her purse and peeled off a couple of ten dollar
bills.
“So, you think maybe you could help me get these cats out from under my house.
Or should I just shoot’em like your father suggested.”
Destiny looked over her shoulder at the aisles and pointed out a medium sized
trap stacked on top of the chicken supplies.
“Just buy yourself a trap.”
Arlo was not making much progress.
“Then what do I do with it? Drown it?” Arlo said this as a joke. But the guy behind
the counter nodded his approval of the idea and Destiny was not laughing. She had
pretty much decided to ignore Arlo altogether. Not exactly making his plan a success.
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She paid for her cat food and started to walk out. Arlo tried for some fast honesty.
“Hold on. I was kidding. I wouldn’t kill a cat. The honest truth is I’ve never had a
cat, much less dealt with a feral cat. To be completely honest… I have no idea what to
do about it. I don’t even know how many could be under there.”
Destiny looked into Arlo with a penetrating stare that made him nervous and high
at the same time. His head started to swim.
“Where you at and I’ll come by in an hour?” she asked.
“County Road 61… you don’t by chance know Emmett Smith?” Arlo asked.
“You rented his mother’s place? I know where that is. That place stinks like
mothballs and has bad energy. Around an hour, I’ll see you there.”
Destiny walked away leaving Arlo feeling seasick and exhilarated. Something
about her made him not give a damn about anything. He felt like celebrating. His plan
was coming together perfectly and he was all about congratulating himself. He paid for
his feral cat trap and hose and took off across the road to buy a case of beer incase he
could get Destiny talking.
Arlo got back to the house and threw his beer in the fridge. He cranked up the air
conditioning in his bedroom just in case, then grabbed a beer and sat on the steps of his
porch to wait for Destiny. By the time she pulled into his driveway in her beat up red
Jeep Cherokee, Arlo was two beers in. He’d been sure to leave the trap on the steps of
the porch to appear like he was all business.
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Destiny climbed out of her Jeep and walked over to the porch. She wore jeans
and a loose fitted plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. When Destiny talked she flung
her hands in gentle gestures that made the bracelets rattle like wind chimes.
“You got a flashlight?”
Arlo thought for a second and then remembered a small one in his car. He re-
trieved it and then lead Destiny to a small door in the paneled siding alongside the back
stairs. It was a crawl space beneath the house that was no taller than two and half feet,
if that. Destiny got straight to work, opening the crawl space door and clambering be-
neath the house like a seasoned plumber. Arlo had no choice but to follow. His fear of
spiders and slug-like critters made his claustrophobia worse as he hunched his body
into the cool, wet darkness beneath the house.
Destiny held the flashlight before them, searching the plumbing, cinder blocks
and forgotten lumber for any sign of movement. Her light stopped on a pair of glowing
green eyes beneath the area that was Arlo’s bedroom. There, stretched out against a
collection of leftover wire and odd pipe lengths was a calico cat with a litter of at least
seven kittens.
“You got a mama cat with babies.The babies haven’t opened their eyes. My
guess is they’re about a week or so old.”
“What do I do now?”Arlo asked starting to wheeze.
“Leave’em alone for another week or so. She might move them and problem
solved,” Destiny started to back up into Arlo. Meanwhile, Arlo was feeling very stuck and
his heart was racing. He tried to back up but could not find the small door. He finally
managed to turn around and find his way out. By the time he was standing in the blister-
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ing sun, he was having a full blown panic attack with chest pains. He laid down on the
hot ground and tried to calm the seizing in his chest. Destiny climbed out and stood over
him.
“Are you having a heart attack? Do I need to call 911?” She spoke with only mild
concern as if she thought he might be faking it.
“I don’t do small spaces. I think it’s a panic attack,” he closed his eyes and felt
the radiating warmth of the sun.
“You want a glass of water?” She asked.
Arlo had been hoping for a Xanax but the glass of water would do. He stood up
and walked to the front porch.
“I usually take Xanax for anxiety. But I’m out of my prescription. Lost my insur-
ance when I left my previous job…”
Arlo was working sympathy and connection in slow deliberate statements.
Destiny was not moved. She followed him up the steps into the house ignoring
his bait.
Arlo poured them glasses of water from a pitcher in the fridge. They stood in the
kitchen in an awkward silence sipping the cold water.
“What kind of work did you do before?” Destiny asked. Her curiosity was sincere.
“Security,” Arlo said. He could tell she was good at reading lies. So he gave her a
half-truth, “I decided to quit and follow my dream to become a farmer.”
Destiny rolled her eyes and laughed, “How do you like it so far?”
“It’s a lot of damn work.”
“And no health insurance but sunshine and fresh air.”
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Destiny finished off her glass of water and headed for the door.
“You could try putting out food for the mama cat and in a week or so, I’ll drop by
and we can try to catch her. She’s going to be hungry.”
As Destiny left, Arlo was satisfied that he had made a connection. He would buy a
bag of cat food and he would now have something to look forward to- another visit with
Destiny.
Arlo fed the cat for two weeks before Destiny returned. The cat seemed to ap-
preciate her meals and soon lounged on Arlo’s back porch between mealtimes. Howev-
er whenever Arlo approached the cat she darted away beneath the house in ungrateful
fear.
Destiny showed up with two cans of tuna and small paper bag midafternoon on
a Saturday. She was dressed in jeans stained with dirt at the knees and a blue t-shirt
with white salt lines across her stomach as if she’s spent most of her morning working in
the heat. Arlo was sitting on his front porch watching the road in a complete haze of
boredom when she pulled up in her Jeep.
“I’d pretty much given up you were ever coming back to help me with this cat.
Meanwhile, I can’t get a full night’s sleep listening to all the mewing beneath my bed,”
Arlo said to Destiny as she walked up his porch steps.
Destiny set the paper bag on a small table by the front door.
“Brought you a couple Xanax so you can climb back under there to help me
catch kittens. Also some other stuff that’s better for anxiety. More natural.”
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Arlo went to look in the bag. Destiny didn’t wait for him to check out what she
had brought him. Instead she pried the top off the can of tuna and headed to the back of
the house.
Arlo opened the paper bag. Inside there were two small cellophane wrapped pack-
ages. One contained two pills which he recognized as Xanax. The other contained an
ounce or more of a powdery light grey substance that Arlo did not recognize. His curiosi-
ty about this other substance nearly got the best of him but he decided to wait until he
had more information before testing it out. He put the paper bag inside and went to find
Destiny.
Destiny knelt at the crawl space door with the can of tuna extended beneath
the house. She clucked her tongue to get the attention of the cat. Then she set the bait
on the ground by the crawl space door and stepped back. Less than a minute later, the
mama cat crept into the sunshine to sniff the can of tuna. Destiny knelt beside the cat
and gently reached out to pet her patches of orange and black fur. The cat flinched
away from her at first but the canned tuna had its influence. The cat quickly decided it
was worth the tuna to allow Destiny to pet her.
Arlo stood a few feet away watching the mastery of Destiny’s cat-catching
skills,
“You are a professional. You could be one of those critter-catcher people that
go around getting racoons and snakes out of people’s houses,” Arlo said with sincere
admiration.
“I don’t think so. I like animals. People not as much.”
The mama cat began to purr and rub against Destiny’s knee.
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“So what next? How do we get the kittens?”
Destiny picked up the trap and looked it over.
“We need something else. This isn’t large enough. You got a big box?”
Arlo walked up the back steps into the house and returned with a large plastic
container that he used for his clothing when he moved. Destiny asked for a screwdriver
and hammer. She proceeded to create holes in the top of the container. She asked for
an old blanket to line the container but Arlo only had an old pillowcase. Then she deftly
climbed under the house and within a few minutes had six blinking, blue-eyed kittens
contained within the box. The mama cat mewed at her feet when she saw her young
imprisoned in the box.
“I thought you said there were seven kittens?” Arlo pointed out.
“One may have died. Or she ate it,” Destiny explained with indifference that
Arlo found desirably macabre.
“Now for the tricky part,” Destiny said, “You got another pillowcase or towel?”
Arlo returned into the house to find what Destiny was looking for. He came
back with a new-looking towel.
“That’s a nice towel for a cat.”
“She isn’t keeping it is she?”
Destiny shrugged. Then in a swift move she enveloped the mama cat in the
towel and deposited her in the container with the kittens. She secured the top on the
container and the mama cat scratched at the walls of the container in fury.
“What are you going to do with her?” Arlo wanted to know.
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Destiny watched the mama cat relent from her fury and begin arranging her
kittens for nursing.
Destiny looked up at Arlo, “I haven’t really thought about that yet.”
“Well, set her on the front porch. Come in and get some water. And tell me
what you brought for my anxiety.”
Arlo could tell from Destiny’s expression that she had almost forgotten about
the drugs, as if handling the cat was more important and more rewarding.
Destiny got the mama cat a small bowl of water and set the container in the
shade of porch. She followed Arlo into the house with a strange expression of resigna-
tion as if the capturing of the calico cat had taken a lot out of her. Arlo thought there was
a sadness in Destiny that sat just below the surface of her ferocity and defiance. She
took the paper bag and removed the two cellophane packages. The Xanax was self-ex-
planatory. The other powdery substance she said could be made into a tea. Or a pinch
put beneath the tongue and allowed to dissolve.
“What is it? Where does it come from?” Arlo asked.
“It’s natural. I can’t tell you a whole lot... but it’s not illegal. I sell it to a lot of folks
around here trying to kick opiates. Try it… now. You’ll see.”
Destiny unwrapped the cellophane package and placed about a teaspoon full
onto a small plate. She divided the powder into three rows with a small knife. She said
this was a dose and she did not recommend taking more than this amount. She handed
the plate to Arlo and suggested he take the first row beneath his tongue. Arlo knew this
was a typical test of a dealer to make sure that someone was not a narc. He usually re-
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sisted these kind of situations but Destiny was easy to be around, easy to drop your
guard with. He kicked caution to the wind and did as he was instructed. He awkwardly
swept the substance from the plate to a spoon and then into his mouth.
It was like taking a mouthful of powdered aspirin, although not quite as bitter. The
taste was metallic and the powder more like ash.
“Don’t swallow it. Wait for it to dissolve,” Destiny said, humored by Arlo’s contort-
ed facial expressions as he tried to avoid gagging.
Arlo thought it would never dissolve. It turned from the ash-like powder to a slimy
mush in his mouth. Then with an effervescent finish it disappeared from his mouth leav-
ing no after-taste.
Arlo waited for an effect. Destiny watched him over slow draughts from her glass
of water. Arlo watched the condensation on her glass as she took a long sip. He
watched her eyes close as she drank, her throat move as the water slipped down, her
tongue lick the drop of water from the corner of her lips. He felt cool as if he held the
glass of water to his cheek. Destiny smiled a knowing smile.
“You feel it already.”
“Yeah, I guess…” Arlo was not exactly sure what he felt. It was as if the room
had suddenly been filled with a soft mist that made everything seem made of that same
mist, as if when he focused his eyes he could see beyond the kitchen counter, the
stove, the refrigerator to outside, to down the road, possibly all the way to the river.
“How do you feel?” Destiny asked with a Cheshire Cat-like grin.
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“Like everything is not as real as I think it is,” Arlo could hear the words he was
saying but it didn’t seem like they were his own words. He was not a particularly ethere-
al person. It was not like him to lose perspective on reality.
“In another ten minutes that will pass. And you’ll be left just feeling calm,” Des-
tiny said with a soothing voice.
“So what do you call this stuff?”
“I call it ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ or J.L. But people now call it ‘Jill’ mostly,”
“What will it cost me?”
“The packet is $20. There are probably 20 doses in here.” Destiny explained
as she rewrapped the powder, “Just remember not to do more that I showed you. That
initial loss of reality last a lot longer and is a lot more real if you do a larger dose. And
that’s not a good thing.”
Arlo was starting to lose the initial experience of a blurred reality. Now a gener-
al relaxation settled over him. He noticed for the first time that Destiny had a thin silver
band on her ring finger.
“Are you married?” Arlo asked now that his inhibitions were lowered.
Destiny looked at her hand which Arlo had noticed. She turned the ring over on
her finger.
“Yeah… in a ‘can’t really fix it’ kind of way,” Destiny said.
Arlo noticed her guard was down. He tried for more information.
“Explain what that means.”
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“I got married young like a lot of people. Husband went to fight in a stupid war
and now he’s mentally so damaged from the experience, I just don’t want to be around
him. I shouldn’t be telling a total stranger this.”
“I wouldn’t call us total strangers anymore. I mean we’ve trapped cats together.
We’ve done drugs together…”
Destiny laughed, “You did drugs and I watched. And it’s not like it’s heroin or
meth… it’s just a natural concoction that makes you relax. Like herbal tea, only
different.”
“Like marijuana, only different.” Arlo mocked.
Destiny smiled, “I better get those cats off somewhere.”
“One more question? What’s the story with your Dad, the mayor?”
This time Arlo hit a dark wall. Destiny’s face went expressionless as if she had
worked for years to go numb on the subject.
She stood up to leave before she answered him, “He’s thinks of himself as a
business man. But he doesn’t care who he hurts doing his business.”
Destiny walked to the front door. Arlo hurried to see her out. She paused at the
front door.
“Well, damn,”
Arlo walked up close to see what she was seeing. He could smell the faint
patchouli that blended so well with the dirt and sweat of her daily life. As he looked out
he fully expected police or better yet, Destiny’s father. Instead, he saw over Destiny’s
shoulder the container, lid flipped off, and not a calico cat or kitten in sight.
Arlo laughed, “Oh, I guess problem solved.”
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Destiny shrugged laughing with him, “I guess.”
Two days later, Arlo found the calico mama cat lounging on his back porch.
She darted away as soon as Arlo stepped out. But her point was made. Arlo left a small
bowl of cat chow at the back door. He never saw the kittens again. He never heard any
scratching beneath his house. But the calico mama cat became a fixture on the back
porch.
Arlo needed to get the powdered drug to his superior so that they could test it
at the lab. As innocuous as Destiny made the concoction seem, Arlo was pretty certain it
must be a controlled substance given its very obvious mind-altering effect. He wanted to
know what it could be made from. He took the package Destiny brought him and split
the substance in half. He sent one half to the lab. The other half he kept in a small
wooden box in his closet.
The following week, Arlo ran into Destiny at the grocery store. She had her
child with her. Throughout their relatively boring conversation about lettuces and cats,
the fragile girl watched Arlo with the same unflinching eyes of her mother. Arlo had a dif-
ficult time focusing on the conversation with Destiny. He kept thinking about her catch-
ing those kittens beneath the house and bringing them into the sunlight, their blinking
blue eyes like this child’s, exposed and without mercy in the wide world.
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Chapter 11 - The Black Butterflies
Shiloh woke up to the sound of butterflies screaming. She lay in her bed and
covered her ears, but the shrill voices pierced through her hands until she could not
have a thought of her own. She opened her eyes. Her room was dark except for the
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streetlight that glowed pink through the tall arched window and the metallic white light of
the T.V. beneath her door. She could hear the rhythmic action of her father’s video game
in the other room.
Now that her eyes were open, Shiloh couldn’t hear the butterflies but she saw a
shadow bump against the tall church window. She knew the shadow wanted inside. She
knew it was not alone and was desperate. She dared to interrupt her father’s game. He
was still awake and probably her mother was not home yet from the farm.
Shiloh opened the door to the room they called the living room. It was the nave,
where once a congregation gathered and now most of the pews had been removed and
the room was furnished with an old couch, a large screen tv against one wall of win-
dows and a farm table with two of the pews as benches. Her parent’s bed was a single
mattress set on the raised area of the altar with a paneled shade dividing this area from
the living room. Shiloh’s father played video games late into the night when her mom
was not home. But when her mom came home she insisted the game was turned off so
she could sleep. Normally her father fell asleep on the couch long after the television
was silent and the lights had been off for hours.
Shiloh climbed onto the couch beside her father. She pulled on his shirt sleeve to
get his attention. He brushed her off at first trying to finish his game. Then realizing that
Shiloh should be asleep, he tried to talk to her over his plays.
“Honey, why are you up? Go back to bed,” he said leaning to one side as he tried
to avoid gunfire on the screen.
Shiloh had lost the words to explain anything to her dad months ago so she just
pulled on his shirtsleeve again.
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“Shiloh, stop. I’m busy. Get back in bed,”
It was no use. Shiloh left the couch and went to the front door of the church.
She would have to let the butterflies in herself. She opened the doors to the church and
stepped out onto the small front step. The shadow shapes of the night bounced on the
evening breeze. Shiloh closed her eyes and suddenly the butterfly voices entered her
like a thousand tiny daggers. Their black wings surrounded her body, fluttered against
her throat and the back of her neck, along her ankles and enveloped her hands and
wrists. She succumbed to them like a wave of destruction and rebirth. In the depths of
their wings, Shiloh was immortal like a superhero, an avenging angel in the making.
Her baptism in the shadows was interrupted suddenly by headlights turning
into their drive. Shafts of gold illuminated the child on the porch and the black wings
vanished into the open door of the house.
“Shiloh, why are you out here at this hour?” Shiloh’s mother’s voice erupted
from the darkened car like the clatter of dropped plates.
Shiloh waited, afraid of the next thing.
Her mother passed her like a storm coming across the hills. Shiloh followed in
her wake, afraid for the butterflies. Shiloh’s father probably never saw any of this on the
horizon. He was too busy dodging imaginary bullets to recognize the present ones.
Shiloh ran to her room before the words started falling from the ceiling like
shattered chandeliers. The butterflies scattered for cover. Shiloh knew the tragic ballet
before it even started, angry whispers that led to a pas de deux around the sofa. She
knew there was a moment of silence in her father before everything snapped. She knew
how her mother cared less and less with each waltz and her voice could reach that
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fever pitch after dark when nothing seemed to ever have gone the way she imagined it.
Then Shiloh heard it. Her mother grabbed the machine and slung it across the altar,
across the bed that they never slept in together anymore, and it exploded into plastic
bits that vaguely reminded Shiloh of the wings of her butterflies. And then her father
leapt like a ninja warrior across the sofa to grab her mother in this final performance. It
was then that Shiloh hid herself in the shadows of the black butterfly wings in her room.
She closed her eyes to the lullaby of their voices. She refused to open her eyes. If she
could only go back to sleep, she could start over.
As Shiloh lay in her bed wishing for black wings to envelope her, she began to
see blue. She opened her eyes and her room was bathed in spinning blue lights. The
butterflies were gone. She only heard human voices, unfamiliar and stern like the bus
driver when the bully boys got rowdy. She thought about going out of her room, meeting
the person who had interrupted the dance of her parents. But all Shiloh really wanted
was to return to the darkness before anyone noticed her, when she could listen to the
voices of the butterflies now singing in her room. She wanted to feel their wings flutter
over her.
There was a clap of thunder. Rain began to peck the windows like a hen eating
cracked corn from a metal pan. The front door opened and shut like everyone wanted
out to play in the rain. The blue lights diminished and the storm settled over the church
like an extension of the night. All Shiloh heard was the washing of the land, the rumbling
of the sky as if God was rearranging the furniture in his house. And Shiloh was alone in
her house that was really a church.
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