GEOFFREY CRAIG - SCUDDER'S GEORGE
Geoffrey Craig’s fiction, poetry and drama have appeared in numerous literary journals, including the New Plains Review, Calliope, Foliate Oak, Spring – the Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, The MacGuffin, The Louisville Review and River Poets Journal. He has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.
In January 2016, Prolific Press published his novel, Scudder’s Gorge. Previously, Wilderness House Literary Review had serialized both his verse novel, The Brave Maiden, and his novella, Snow.
Four of his full-length plays (one co-authored) and ten of his one-acts have been produced. He has directed productions of eight of his plays.
Geoffrey has a BA (Colgate), an MBA (Harvard) and an MA in history (Santa Clara). He served in the Peace Corps in Peru and had a successful career in banking before turning to writing.
(1877 – 1945)
August 6, 1945
Etsuko Hayato had not slept well. Sirens sounded throughout the night, and he tossed and turned on his thin futon. It was still dark when he sighed and carefully folded the cotton mattress, placing it in a lacquered chest. He re-read the war stories in yesterday’s newspaper.
When his wife died, Etsuko moved in with his older son and daughter-in-law, both of whom worked in munitions plants in the city. Etsuko’s second son was in the navy, and his wife also lived with Etsuko’s older son who was at sea early in the war but was now at the nearby Kure Naval Base. It was a comfort to Etsuko to live with his family, even if the wooden house was rather small. It did have a vegetable garden and shrine in the back. Etsuko spent a lot of time in the garden.
He had three grandchildren, two boys and a girl. One grandson had been killed at Okinawa. The last letter from his other grandson was dated three months earlier. It said nothing about his situation, except that he had been promoted to captain. His granddaughter, a schoolteacher, had been evacuated from Hiroshima, along with her pupils, to a rural temple.
Etsuko knew he was fortunate to have both sons alive, and to be living with one while seeing the other several times a month. His daughters-in-law were pearls. He grieved for his grandson, but other families had suffered more. His friend, Mitsuo, had lost all three of his sons.
Hiroshima had not been hit hard by the allies, despite its military facilities. Fortunately, its government hadn’t demolished the houses in his neighborhood to create a fire lane. Etsuko murmured a prayer of gratitude as he knelt on a tatami while his daughter-in-law served him a cup of tea and a small bowl of rice topped with pickled vegetables. At seven, the radio broadcast an air raid alert. Everyone froze - utensils in mid-air. They all rushed from the house and searched the clear sky. Would this be the day when terror and destruction rained down on Hiroshima? They started for the shelter, but no huge B29s droned overhead. Instead, a lone plane – clearly not a bomber – circled the city.
They waited outside the shelter, talking to neighbors, still anxiously scanning the skies. At seven-thirty, his son, Jotaro, decided that the danger was past. He and his wife took a tram to work. Etsuko’s other daughter-in-law returned to clean up the breakfast dishes before going downtown to her job in a government office.
After inviting the neighbors to come over that evening for a glass of precious sake, Etsuko took a walk. He did not have to report to his fire warden’s station until ten. Perhaps he would find some fruit in a shop. With the disappearance of so many commodities, their diet had become bland and meager. He walked through narrow lanes crowded with small houses. After his restless night, it felt good to use his legs. The morning sun was warm on his face.
Having lost one grandson, he wondered, as he did frequently, if the rest of his family would survive the war. He revered the Emperor, and initially supported the war as vital to Japan’s interests, but the loss of lives, the physical destruction, and the rending of the fabric of Japanese society had been overwhelming. Etsuko sadly concluded that the time for surrender might have arrived.
Japan’s sun would rise from the ashes and shine more brightly than ever, but it was far too dangerous to utter such thoughts. He prayed, instead, that the Emperor, the living God, would seek an honorable peace. Otherwise, they must fight on. Japan must never abandon the ‘Divine One’ who ruled over the sacred homeland.
He saw a few yellow flowers growing in a scrap of yard, and smiled. He wished he could identify the flowers. He had worked as a mid-level manager in one of the big zaibatsu for forty-four years. Now that he was retired, he would devote some time to studying nature. His wife, Shizue, had worked miracles with flower arrangements.
He stopped briefly at a small temple with curved, red beams protruding over the lane. He prayed in memory of Shizue, and for the safety of his family. It would be a clear, hot day. Through an open window, he heard the radio blare another air raid warning. He glanced at his watch; it was just past eight. There was no sign of bombers, but perhaps he should go home. He started down the lane and, noticing the drone of an airplane, quickened his pace. He hurried past an empty school with a small patch of sweet potatoes growing in the yard.
The engines sounded louder. He stopped and looked up. He saw one large plane followed by two smaller ones. They were almost overhead. He was panting. His heart and lungs were not what they used to be. He saw a white parachute fall from the large plane; he watched it drift slowly downward. How curious; it must not be a bomb.
For an instant, he saw a blinding flash and heard an earth-shattering explosion. The world went black, and Etsuko Hayato’s dust mingled with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
September 7, 1799
It was not the first time she had seen him. The first time was two weeks earlier on a pristine June day in 1799 when she went berry picking with her sister, Carrie. They set out early, each swinging a wooden bucket with a deerskin strap. Having learned to shoot at an early age, Philomena carried a musket slung across her back to protect them from the few remaining bears and wolves.
The sun was just climbing over the ridge. It was still cool. A mantle of fog straddled the ridgeline, and mist rose from the fields. Passing the log cabins of the settlement, they saw smoke from stone chimneys thickening the air. They breathed deeply the tantalizing odor of roasting venison and rabbit. Anxious to be on their way, they hurried through their breakfast of cold corn mush and milk. Their mother laughed and said they could do their chores when they returned.
The first of the settlers had arrived in sparsely settled, Northern Vermont four years ago. Since then, they had experienced good relations with the handful of Abenaki Indians that lived at the northern end of the valley. Thickly forested hills climbed above the Abenaki village, gradually at first, and then angling up sharply to reach a cascade that crashed through a steep gorge into a clear, icy pool.
The settlers located their cluster of cabins in a bend on the east bank of the river that flowed down from the gorge and bisected the valley. Six miles southeast of the Abenaki wigwams, the settlement was in the center of the valley. While most of their homes huddled together like cattle in a storm, several recent settlers built log houses along a muddy, rutted road that extended north and south from the settlement.
The settlers arrived in the valley with several cows and six sheep. They planned to start a flock and use the wool for clothes, blankets, and eventual sale to the towns of northern Massachusetts. Four oxen had laboriously pulled two wagons over the rocky hills and through the lush, green valleys. Crammed into the wood-slated wagons were a variety of tools and farm implements – hammers, saws, axes, hoes, two ploughs – and two pairs of baby pigs, a dozen chickens, and chests of clothes and household goods. The pigs squealed and the chickens cawed as the wagons bumped over the rough terrain. Tied to one wagon, Lucas Scudder’s young Holstein bull let out an occasional bellow as if in protest against the loss of Massachusetts’ comforts.
Cornfields now spread out on both sides of the river. Young apple trees grew in a communal orchard to the east of the village. Each cabin had a vegetable plot in the back and chickens scratching in front.
Lucas Scudder and Dexter Forshay had guided the first ten families north through the Connecticut River Valley. Skirting the Green Mountains, they passed Brattleboro, Windsor, and Norwich to settle on a land grant issued almost ten years earlier by the then independent Republic of Vermont. The site, south of Craftsbury, was in a hilly area crisscrossed by ridges, valleys, and frothing streams. Through the summers of stinging flies, the winters of razor-like cold, and the monotonous fare of the first years, Lucas had rallied the settlers. Determined to succeed, he dissuaded several families from retreating to Massachusetts. Though stiff-necked and Puritanical, he let no family go hungry, sharing his game with less skilled hunters.
Lucas had grown tired of working for his father and oldest brother in Northfield. To his way of thinking, Massachusetts had grown crowded and could not give him scope for his vision of a thriving settlement carved out of the wilderness. He saw himself as a builder, a creator on a grand scale. He expected that the town would eventually be named after him.
Almost as soon as they had built their homes, the settlers erected a crude log building to serve as a church. Lucas, Dexter, and Owen Harding served as elders and, in the absence of a parson, took turns reading scripture and preaching at meetings. After a year, they constructed a gristmill by the river, and a year later, a primitive sawmill to trim the logs they cut for their homes. New families arrived every year, and now there were over twenty.
The settlers lived much like the Abenaki who, early on, had come to trade. While most Abenaki spoke passable French, a few also knew a little English. Relations were peaceful, and one of the settlers, Israel Smythe, whose wife had died from a rattlesnake bite the second summer, had married an Abenaki woman. They had a baby boy and were expecting another child in a few months. The settler’s two older children were delighted with their baby brother, and ran to play with him as soon as they finished their chores.
The first rays of the sun felt good on the backs of Philomena and Carrie. It would warm up shortly, and the mosquitoes and black flies would come out, causing them to brush at their faces constantly, unless a breeze sprang up to carry off the pests. They wore long dresses of drab brown, a bit the worse for wear, and white aprons. They had on stout shoes to navigate the stony meadows and low-lying marshes. Their white caps, with a flounce along the edge, would protect them from the sun and deter the less determined insects.
The sky was a washed-out blue and paler along the ridges. After leaving the settlement, they heard only birdcalls and the sound of their own tramping feet. They crossed the log bridge that led to the western bank of the river. The best berry patches on the eastern side had already been scoured. Looking downstream, they noticed Josiah Royce urinating in the river. Neither girl blushed; it was a common sight. They could have skirted the cornfields and passed through meadows strewn with purple clover and yellow dandelions, but they loved the queer feeling of walking between the rows of thin-stalked plants—their world narrowed to curving leaves and the shimmering sky.
Before entering the cornfield, Philomena glanced north, towards the gorge. She had only been there a couple of times. Last summer, on an exceptionally hot Sunday afternoon, two adults had treated a group of youngsters to an expedition to the pool below the cascade. The boys had stripped to their trousers and jumped in, screaming with delighted shock as they hit the frigid water. The younger girls had swum in their under garments. At seventeen, Philomena had refused to do more than sit on the mossy bank and dangle her bare feet and ankles in the foam-flecked pool.
A dry summer, the adults judged the current flowing through the pool slow enough for the children to swim. Normally, they went to a crook in the river a mile below the settlement. Even at that quiet spot, a boy almost drowned when he ventured near the center of the flow. An older lad cut diagonally downstream, blocked the flailing boy, and pulled him out of the swift current.
Talking intently, Philomena and Carrie hurried along the rows of corn – sidestepping the numerous stumps that dotted the field like flotsam from a shipwreck. They were exhilarated by the bright morning, their solitary excursion, and the rare treat of having chores postponed. Later, Philomena would churn the butter and Carrie would finish her spinning. Philomena loved and confided in her sister. She knew that Seth Lawrence was in love with her. He always contrived to be around her after meeting; and last Sunday, he had been staring at her when she glanced up during a hymn. Her mother had tugged at her sleeve and nodded brusquely at the hymnbook. His attentions thrilled but also bothered her.
Are you going to marry him?” asked Carrie, trying to be serious but unable to contain a giggle.
“I don’t want to get married at eighteen.”
“Abby Brewster was eighteen, and Cousin Samantha back in Northfield was seventeen.”
“I’m not Abby Brewster – eyeing every boy in the village until she finally hooked beetlebrowed Ezra Royce.”
Carrie laughed – low and mischievously.
“Pretty soon they’ll call you a spinster.”
“I don’t care what those stringy women with clacking tongues call me. There’s lots I want to do before I get married and have a passel of children.”
“What’s there to do around here except chores and church? Oh, I forgot – corn husking and the harvest dance. Splendid.”
“Who said around here, ninny? I want to see someplace other than this valley. Maybe I’ll go visit Grandpa. I bet there’s lots to do in Northfield.”
“Do you like it here?”
Philomena gave no answer as they left the cornfields and crossed into a sloping meadow. She was troubled by Carrie’s question. She was expected to marry, raise children, share the farm work with her husband, and take care of her parents when they grew older. That was supposed to constitute a good life, but something was missing. She felt at odds with herself.
“Answer me,” said Carrie. “Do you like living here?”
“I do; but then again, I don’t. I want something to happen that’s different, that’s exciting. Seth Lawrence is not exciting.”
“You’re being ... eighteen.”
“Sixteen is the fountain of wisdom? Or maybe God touched you?”
“No, but he will you,” shouted Carrie.
She jumped on her sister’s back, riding around and pummeling her as if she were an unruly horse. Philomena shrieked and, pulling her sister’s skirt, fell to the ground – rolling over on top of her. They wrestled for a few minutes, laughing excitedly, and then stopped, breathing heavily.
“What if Papa saw us?” asked Philomena. “He would consider our behavior quite undignified.”
“He would not. We’re farm girls, not city women. He’d think it funny.”
“I don’t know. He’s so stern.”
“You have to make him laugh,” said Carrie.
They continued across the meadow and reached a wooded area replete with raspberry and blackberry bushes. They began filling their buckets. A reddish purple stained their fingertips. Philomena leaned her head back, opened wide, and dropped two blackberries the size of acorns into her full-lipped mouth. They swiped at hovering, whining mosquitoes and picked intently. Dew sparkled from webs in the grass and soaked their shoes. Small birds twittered and hopped about in the thickets bordering the meadow. The sun began to heat their bent backs. When she stood up to stretch and adjust the musket, Philomena felt a bead of sweat trickle down her spine. She liked the sensation.
“What do you think it would be like to be married?” she asked.
Carrie stared at Philomena as if she had just stepped naked from a bath.
“I mean to lie with a man.” Philomena waited a second and then turned back to the bush,
“You’re too young to think about it.”
“I think about it a lot. I can hear Mother and Father even though they try to be very quiet. It must be exciting – and pleasurable.”
“It must be,” said Philomena, “with the right man at the right time.” She idly plucked a berry and ate it. “Have you ever ... you know ... touched...?”
Carrie looked at her bucket and then boldly at her sister. “Yes. Have you?”
Absorbed again in stripping the heavy clusters of ripe berries, they fell silent. A few minutes later, Philomena picked an immense raspberry and held it up for Carrie to see.
“Open the door,” she laughed and placed it carefully on Carrie’s waiting tongue.
“It will never do to eat all the best ones,” admonished Carrie, who nevertheless could not suppress a grin.
“We’ve just eaten a few, and we’ll keep it a secret. Surely, that’s not much of a sin.”
They moved along the edge of the woods. After an hour, their buckets were threequarters full. Their arms and backs were sore. Philomena suddenly felt uneasy; the back of her neck tingled. She looked into the forest. The maple leaves were a satiny green. Broad sunbeams struck the thick pine trunks. Nothing moved except a grey squirrel dashing from one tree to the next. She shrugged. Then she saw him standing in the shadows, almost invisible and perfectly still. He was watching them, no expression on his lean face. He was tall and looked a few years older. He had glossy, black hair tied behind his head. He wore a buckskin shirt, trousers, and carried a bow. In his other hand, he held a large rabbit.
Philomena exclaimed, “Oh!”
Carrie looked up, “What is it?” Looking in the direction her sister was facing, she saw the Abenaki. Neither girl spoke for a few seconds, and then Carrie smiled and said, “Good morning.”
The young man replied awkwardly, “Good morning.” He turned and strode into the forest.
“Mama,” shouted Carrie as she burst into the cabin carrying a full bucket of berries, “we saw an Abenaki in the woods. He was carrying a rabbit he had shot with his bow.” She put the bucket on table. “He was handsome.”
“What’s that about an Abenaki?” asked Lucas as he ducked into the cabin. He had been clearing a new field to plant with wheat in the spring – the first wheat in the settlement. His hands were blackened from burning and digging out a large stump; his face was streaked with grime. Caleb and Samuel followed him.
Martha glanced quickly at her husband. “Philomena and Carrie saw an Abenaki when they went berry picking.”
Lucas looked queerly at his daughters.
“They have been friendly these past four years, but they can be treacherous. They’ve been known to make off with captives. In future, stay close.”