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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    A mother wonders -- (Sarah):

          What Clark did wasn't nice --
          leaving during the service
          like that.  Can you imagine?
          Of course, I hid my chagrin
          and went out to look for him,
          but the search proved fruitless
          and I had to wait outside
          until John Ross, our ride,
          was ready to leave with his kin.
          He's such a gentleman --
          told me not to worry,
          that Clark had probably
          just gotten antsy and gone home,
          and his wife Sally said their Pete
          is as troublesome -- an only child
          has the energy of three, she said --
          and that I should be
          to their home soon for tea
          and to discuss it further.
          Why Eben so dislikes
          that clan I can't say.

    A husband frets -- (Eben):

          The brazen way he stares
          as she steps off his rig --
          it isn't decent!  Mrs. Ross,
          being present, ought to stop it.
          Well, that bigot can act
          as chivalrous as he wants --
          I know the real John Ross: snake-in-the-grass
          waiting to spring and bite.  "Sarah Ross":
          Why, even saying' it burns my tongue.
          Lucky I had the chance
          to be Sarah Clark's first romance
          when the three of us were young, yes-sir!
          Well, I'd best meet her at the gate
          now, counter the weight
          of my old rival's act her views,
          keep her stumb'lin onto Clark too --
          that hole'd upset her so
          -- help her pack her valises,
          'n see her off to see the Dents
          in Metropolis. Ha!  Distant
          relations!  Thank Heaven for 'em!

    A neighbor's ruminations -- (John Ross):

          Eben, you've got horses, but no sense.
          Ya' slave away, worse for the wear
          of every harvest,
          while bankers milk ya' with their interest
          and mortgages -- like all those in the West
          whose dollars feed
          the damn New Yorkers' war machine. 
          We had our rage once
          but you've given in to age
          and comfort.  Horses! 
          Who ya' think ya' are, com'portin
          yourself like an ole massa: plantation,
          couple a' houses, 'n forgetting' the cause?
          My friend, I'm gonna give you pause,
          setcha t'pasture --
          'taint no man moves faster
          than the Secret Nation...
          "Whas' that, Sally?  We missed our turn?
           Tarnation!  Why don't this mule learn?!"

    A narrator resumes his observations --
          (the author):

    Eben's father, Hiram Kent, kept up
    a machine shop in a shack he set up
    behind the barn.  Equipment like his lathe
    was more than anyone dreamed of in those days,
    but Hiram, Small County's craftsman, loved
    to work with his hands; and it meant money
    while the land rested in winter, and food
    for Eben and Sam.  He early pressed
    his sons into service.  Eben's first
    work as machinist (he'll soon throw that hasp,
    open that gate) was with a brand of brass
    that flakes when cut.  This made the project
    most difficult.  Metallic dust hung
    in the air, in his nostrils, in his lungs.
    The hinge stunk as much -- O, how it stung! --
    but the gate has held.  Though the crossbeams
    have begun to splinter and the posts lean,
    the fence still makes for good neighbors.
    Seeing this early product of his life's labors,
    Eben's ill feelings recede.
    He pulls back the dead bolt and admits his wife.

    A couple, long wed, converse --
          (the Kents,
          Sarah speaking first):

    --     Thank you, dear;
           You're so good about doors.

          --    You're welcome.

                (And Eben holds her shoulders,
                 halts her too quick progress
                 with his big hands and face.
                 He keeps her near the fence
                 just to ask...)

          --    Why you looking' so riled?

    --    Seen your son?

          --    He came by, stayed a bit,
                had some problem
                with another "power," but
                he'll work it out.       

    --    Guess I'm relieved at that.
          Eben, it was... disturbing,
          you not there and him disappearing.

          --    Suppose I'll have to start
                church goin' again
                just to keep 'yer heart steady.

    --    When I get back?

          --    Reckon by then I'll be ready.

    --    Come with me?

          --    Now, Sarah, I can't go
                to the city with you,
                not when there's work to do.

    --    Clark can handle it.  You know that
          (and she gives him a loving slap
           and calls him a stubborn fool).
          Don't you want to go, get an eyeful
          of all the sights you've never seen?

          --    Tall buildings ain't my cup o' tea,
                honey; things a man can't see
                the top of, let alone climb.
                And the crime!  Why bother?
                Your brother-in-law's not
                my favorite fellow, either.
                No ma'am, I've got no inclination
                to visit your Metropolis.
                Farm's for a man, for me;
                though I surely will miss
                my girl, if she insists on going.

    --    I do.  Haven't seen my sis' fer years.
          (They kiss).
          I'm not mad any more.

          --    I can tell.  It's the smile.
                [And, as he leads her the half mile
                down the path to the house
                (seems the coast is clear),
                he cannot help but ask]:
                How were the Rosses, dear?

    --    John was concerned
          and Sally helpful.
          Pete was behaved, and the talk,
          dear?  Why, Ellis was simply artful.

    They reach the house, find Clark out front
    chopping wood, no shovel in sight,
    his ship laid to rest and no blight
    of a wound on the earth showing.
    Eben is in awe of his son,
    but Clark is his son, and his son
    wants his wife to read him a story
    before she goes.  She does (Idylls
    of the King
    , a tale of glory
    in the best troubadour tradition)
    and promises a first sewing lesson
    when she gets home.  Of the dressing
    Clark salved onto their lot?  "Likely --"
    Pa savors the secret, putting
    Ma's bags on cart, "-- she'll never know"
    what transpired here today.
    Before she goes away, the boy
    is sent out to play ("Have to report
    that missing dog," Pa notes, "on Monday"),
    and --
          A couple, long wed, consort --
          (Sarah and Eben):

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