I was looking through some older files on the old hard drive, and I found this story that I'd forgotten, despite the fact that I excerpted it on this blog...exactly three years ago today, believe it or not. Anyway, here's the tale in its entirety. It's long, as many of my stories used to be, but I like the way it turned out.
Rose Barnstone laid awake for a while, and when the bells of Old Presbyterian rang one o’clock, she shook the man beside her.
“Time to go, Enoch,” she said.
Enoch Spencer grumbled and rolled over. “Maybe I should just tell Edna the truth,” he said. “Save us all some trouble.” Then he laughed.
“Yeah, you do that,” Rose said. “And miss my company? I don’t think so.”
“Now, Rose,” Enoch said as he got up and pulled on his shirt and pants. “Edna and I don’t have what you and I have.”
“Is that a fact?” Rose raised an eyebrow as she pulled on her faded men's shirt and overalls. “Well, it’s a good thing we’re doing things this way, because I would never
marry a cheating miner like you.”
He laughed at that as he finished pulling on his shoes. “See you tomorrow night,” he said before leaving her room. Rose waited a few minutes and then went downstairs herself.
“Evenin’, Miss Rose,” Isaac said when she came into the bar. Isaac – “Big” Isaac to everyone else in town – was Rose’s helper around the Lambert. “I figured you’d go to bed and finish all this tomorrow. I can close up.”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Rose lied. “Feel like taking him home?” She gestured to the stool at the corner of the bar, where as usual for this time of night Old Mordecai Franks was asleep.
“Don’ I always?” Isaac said as he walked over and gave Mordecai a shove. “Night’s over, Mord. Time to go.”
As always, it took about five minutes of prodding before Old Mordecai got up. “Fine, fine. Stop touchin’ me. Jesus.” Mordecai squinted at Isaac, as if seeing him for the first time. “Jesus, with you?”
“It’s me every night, Mord. Come on.”
“One more for the road, Rose? Least you can do before I go off with Blackie, here…” He didn’t even wait for Rose to say no; he just grumbled all the way outside as Isaac followed. Same routine, every night.
Alone in the bar, Rose glanced at her reflection in the mirror behind the rows of whiskey bottles. Shaking her head at the woman in the mirror, a woman whose face had too many lines and whose nose was a bit too slightly crooked and whose shoulder-length hair had a bit too much gray mixed in with the brown for a woman of thirty years, she picked up a cloth and began the last cleanup of this night. Right about now Enoch would be sliding into bed with his wife while she
was cleaning glasses.***
Rose stifled a yawn as she finished dicing the potatoes and divided them between the two stew-pots. Then she rinsed off the knife and started cutting the leeks, yawned again, and slid the knife across her left index finger. She had said five words that no respectable woman would say before she noticed Isaac standing there.
“You okay, Miss Rose?”
“Hell, I’m fine,” she said. “Just a little blood in the stew today.”
Isaac grinned. “A cook shouldn’t fear no blood in the pot. Gives the cookin’ some character.”
“Your momma had enough character for five counties,” Rose said as she pumped some water and ran it over her bleeding finger. “Need something, Isaac?”
“Well, I was fixin’ those eaves out front and a man came up. Drivin’ a truck. He asked to talk to the owner, and I told him that’s you, and he’s waitin’ at the bar.”
“All right,” she said. Isaac nodded and left. Rose tore a piece of cloth off a sheet she kept around in the kitchen for just this purpose and wrapped her finger in it, and then she went out front to see the salesman. There were more of them these days, passing through Corley’s Crossing on their way to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or Baltimore. Nobody came to Corley’s Crossing except to go through it to someplace else.
This salesman was sitting on Mordecai’s stool, with whatever he was selling in a wooden crate on the stool next to him. Rose pursed her lips as she looked at him. He didn’t look like the other salesmen. For one thing he wore no tie – just a collarless shirt that he wore open at the top, like the one Rose wore except it was a damn sight cleaner, plain dark pants and worn shoes that looked like he’d never given a single thought to shining them. He wore no hat and he was reading a book. Rose cleared her throat and approached him from behind the bar. He looked up from his book and smiled.
“Hello! Are you the owner of this establishment?”
Establishment? That’s quite the word, Rose thought. He was handsome, in a way, with a prominent chin and sand-colored hair that was casually combed and – the most piercingly green eyes Rose had ever seen.
“Yes, I am,” Rose said. “Welcome to the Lambert.” She reminded herself to smile, and she blushed with embarrassment over her appearance – not that it was any different from usual, not that she hadn’t talked to salesmen before dressed the same way, and not that he hadn’t talked himself to barkeeps in old shirts and overalls before.
“I’ll bet you don’t get too many salesmen,” he said, offering his hand. Rose took it, and his grip was strong. “This town is sure off the beaten track.”
“We like it that way,” Rose said.
“I’m sure. My name is Daniel. May I have yours?”
Daniel. Somehow it fit him, although Rose had no idea why or how.
“Rose. Rose Barnstone.”
“Barnstone…that’s a pretty name.”
“I guess so,” Rose said. “Can I help you?”
“I've been in a lot of towns like this,” the man named Daniel said. “Places no one knows except the people who live there, people who never leave or if they do they come back before long. Places that the rest of the world doesn’t know about, and you don’t want them to know about it so you don’t tell them.”
Rose looked at him for a moment. What he said was true; nobody ever left Corley’s Crossing except by dying, and nobody ever came there except by being born. She chuckled. “Daniel, you have the strangest sales pitch I’ve ever heard.”
“That wasn’t my sales pitch,” Daniel said, holding Rose’s gaze. She felt a bit strange, suddenly, and reached up with her hand to finger the top of her overalls bib in a gesture of sudden, reflexive modesty. His gaze was strangely intense, and it made her feel…naked.
“What are you selling?” she finally asked.
He smiled, less intensely. “Beer,” he said. “A brew that I think you and your customers will enjoy and appreciate – and it will bring in even more customers, I guarantee it.” He pulled a brown-glass beer bottle from the crate on the stool beside him and handed it to Rose. There was no label on it, just a glass relief image on it of a cross topped by a triangle.
“I have plenty of beer,” Rose said. “And the miners who come in here to drink tend to like whiskey more.”
“That’s because they haven’t tried Old Prospero’s,” Daniel said. “Go on. Taste it.”
“It’s not even cold.”
“With Old Prospero’s, it won’t matter. This is special stuff.”
Rose gazed at Daniel for a minute, wondering if this was some kind of joke. Then she leaned over and pried the top off the bottle. It was surprisingly cold, which she chalked up to it being a fairly cool autumn day, and she poured some of the beer into a glass.
The first thing that struck her was the beer’s color. The stuff she always served came two ways: so dark as to be almost black, or the yellow color of pale straw. This beer, though, was a deep gold or almost copper color, like an old coin or Father’s old pocket watch, as it had looked when she’d polished it and buried it with him. In the light of the bar, fairly dim even though it was late morning, the beer almost seemed to glow. Of course, anything could look pretty. She lifted the glass to her nose and sniffed. It had that grain smell that all beer had, but this was different; the aroma was so fresh that it made Rose think of a wheat field on a warm summer day.
And then she sipped it.
Her mouth was filled at once with what felt like a hundred different flavors, every one of them in perfect balance with all the others. There was wheat, pure and clean. There was the cleansing taste of the freshest water, like snowmelt on a day in late winter. She tasted strawberries and cherries, apples and cinnamon, maple and honey. She closed her eyes as she swallowed, and as it went down a feeling of glowing warmth spread through her body, all the way down to her toes and all the way up to her scalp. The she opened her eyes again, and when she did it was as if all the furnishings in the bar had been restored to their original luster and all the windows thrown open to let in the spring’s first sunlight. Rose took another sip, and as she did so she wondered if this was how the Lambert had looked on the day her father had first opened the doors. Even the air smelled better: the years of dust from the miners’ bodies and smoke from their cigarettes and pipes were gone, replaced by the tangy aroma of the stew simmering in the kitchen and the pine of the bar.
She took another swallow, and then another. She wanted the feeling from the Old Prospero’s to continue…and then the bottle was empty, before she even knew it.
“Oh my,” she finally said.
Daniel grinned. “Do you like it?”
Rose looked at him. “It’s amazing,” she said.
“That it is,” Daniel said. “I’ve seen longshoremen at the docks get drunk on Old Prospero’s faster than the strongest whiskey. But it’s a good drunk. You’ll never have a fight in here while you’re serving this.”
Rose nodded. Fights didn’t happen often in the Lambert, but they did happen.
“So,” Daniel said, “is there a market for Old Prospero’s in Corley’s Crossing?”
Rose looked into Daniel’s green eyes. He was smiling again.
“I think so,” she said.
“Good!” He reached into his back pocket and took out a small pad and pencil. “Will six cases be enough? or should we make it eight?”
Rose was considering that very question when the front door swung open, and three women walked in. Rose went rigid at the sight of them. It was strange enough that women would come into the Lambert at all, let alone these three – but then, maybe it wasn’t that strange. The woman in front, and the leader of this trio, was Edna Spencer. Enoch’s wife.
They were dressed in the Sunday best, of course. Edna’s floral-print dress was in perfect proportion, with its ankle-length skirt and lace collar and cuffs. Her tasteful, white hat bore a single yellow carnation. Her two friends – Alice Stewart and Mabel York, without whom Edna never went anywhere unless she was with Enoch – were dressed equally nicely, and each woman held a handbag with a strong, two-handed grip. Yes, they were the picture of “proper”, or as close as could be found in Corley’s Crossing.
“Hello, Edna,” Rose said. She glanced at Daniel, who had reopened his book and was trying to look like he was reading.
“I don’t recall that we are on a first-name basis, Miss Barnstone,” Edna said in that accent that she had perfected over the years, ridding herself of that Appalachian twang for no apparent reason, since Edna never left Corley’s Crossing. “I understand that you have been enjoying my husband’s company for some time. I’m here to ask you to stop.”
Rose shifted on her feet.
“He doesn’t love you, Miss Barnstone. If he has been…enjoying you for hedonistic reasons, you should know that love has nothing to do with it.”
Rose wondered if Edna had found out from Enoch or from someone else. Probably from someone else. Enoch did not have the guts to tell anyone on his own.
“You see, Miss Barnstone,” Edna went on, “Enoch could never love a person like you.”
Daniel gave a sigh that was barely audible. For some reason, Rose glanced down at the empty glass that had contained the Old Prospero’s, before she’d consumed it. The feeling of light-headed warmth came rushing back all at once. She put her shoulders back and crossed her arms over her chest.
“It’s funny, Edna,” Rose said. “You’ve never been any farther from Corley’s Crossing than New Sedgwick, and your brother’s accent is the same as it’s always been.”
Edna opened her mouth, but said nothing. She hadn’t expected anything like this.
Rose went on. “If Enoch suddenly decided last night that you can actually satisfy him, then good for you. I guess you’ve been practicing more than your accent.”
Now Edna’s cheeks went red, while her two partners acted appropriately shocked at the very idea.
Rose smiled sweetly, feeling lighter than air. “You should worry more about Enoch than about me, Edna. After all, there’s a reason he came to me. Now, ladies, unless you want to buy a drink—”
Now Edna’s eyes flashed in what for a proper lady passed for rage, and she spun on her heels and walked out without waiting for her friends. Edna was a teetotaler, and she had tried many times to make Enoch into one as well, but it had never taken. “Good day to you, Mrs. Spencer,” Rose called after her, though she was well out of earshot by now. Then she laughed out loud.
Daniel smiled. “You were the picture of strength just now,” he said.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “Normally I’d have just kept nodding until she left.” She put the empty glass under the bar. “I guess Enoch won’t be coming around tonight.”
“Do you love this man?” Daniel asked.
Rose stopped and stared at him. It was a strange question to receive from a beer salesman, and Daniel had a strange look in his eye.
“No,” Rose said. “He’s just a cheating miner.”
“I know the kind,” Daniel said. His voice sounded slightly angry now. “A rose is not a dandelion, and should not be treated as such.” He shook his head then, and just like that the dark look was gone from his eye. “Eight cases of Old Prospero’s, eh? I’ll deliver it in three days. It has been a pleasure, Rose.” He smiled again, but this smile was businesslike, perfunctory. It had none of the warmth from before.
“Thank you,” Rose said as Daniel left the bar. She watched him stand on the step outside, gazing strangely into the distance. Then he made a single motion with his hand, as if brushing away a fly, before he descended the step and left entirely. For several minutes after that she stood there, absently running her cloth over the same section of the bar. She wondered if she had said something wrong, something that had offended him. She also waited for the last bit of the buzz from the Old Prospero’s to fade.
“You OK, Miss Rose?”
“What? Oh, Isaac – I’m fine.” Just a little tired….
“Good,” Isaac said as he moved past her to get to the basement door and head down there to do…something or other. Rose suddenly remembered the stew she’d left cooking on the stove, and she ran to the kitchen. It was as she was adding herbs to the mixture that she heard the siren.
It was the gigantic siren from the coal mine, and it could be heard almost ten miles away, although it was only a mile and a half from Corley’s Crossing, up on the side of Grant Mountain. The siren sounded twice a day, to mark the arrival of the miners in the morning and their quitting time at night. Rose glanced at the clock on her wall. The siren never sounded at two-thirty in the afternoon, except for one reason. Rose shivered. She knew well why the siren would sound during the day. It hadn’t happened in almost a year, which was almost a record. She stopped stirring the stew and listened instead to the siren. Then Isaac came into the kitchen, and he too heard it.
“Lord have mercy,” he said.
“Too late for that,” Rose said with a sigh. “Help me get things ready, Isaac. Looks like we’re having a wake here tonight.”
“I wonder who it was,” Isaac said.
Rose said nothing. She wasn’t sure how, but she knew that it was Enoch Spencer at the bottom of the cave-in.
Enoch had been working in one of the older shafts, one they were getting ready to close down. He’d been on his way out when he’d gone back. Nobody knew why. Maybe he’d left something behind…but he’d gone back alone, despite the rule against it. And that had been that: no sooner had he walked beyond the first bend than the tunnel ceiling had given way. It was what the miners called a “quick-and-hopeless”.
When a miner died, that very night was always the wake, held at the Lambert where two generations of miners had come to drink after emerging from the earth. As Rose served the drinks at Enoch’s wake, she kept thinking about him and if he might still be alive somewhere down there, lying in the darkness with his lungs filling with dust and his body sweltering from the heat. They all told her it was a quick-and-hopeless, but still she wondered. She also wondered if this was the way Edna had wanted to get her wish about Rose no longer sleeping with him.
They dug him out the next day. It had apparently been a very strange cave-in: very small and confined to the one spot where Enoch had been. The structure shoring up the tunnel, though very old, was still sound leading up to that place, and it was still apparently standing beyond that spot. It turned out that while it was definitely hopeless, it was anything but quick. The cave-in had allowed some seepage of water, though no one knew from where, and the water had slowly filled the cavity in which Enoch was trapped, head-down. The space around his head had slowly filled with water and drowned him. If he had been able to move, or even lift his head a few inches, he might have lived long enough to be dug out. Everyone in Corley’s Crossing knew that death in the mines could be a matter of inches, but this was the closest anyone could remember.
The funeral was two days later, on a Saturday. It was held at Old Presbyterian, where Rose had not set foot since her father’s passing eight years before. Rose didn’t care for how her dress fit these days, but it was all she had and no one would really see her in it anyway since she’d only stand at the very back of the church.
While Reverend Holton went through his motions, not one of which had ever made any sense to her, she looked over the people filling the pews, most of whom only knew Enoch by name, if even that, but you always came out for a miner. Rose knew that Edna was up there somewhere, flanked by Alice and Mabel. Of course Edna would dab at her eyes with her handkerchief every moment or two, perhaps even shed a tear for appearances’ sake, but mostly she would either stare at the coffin or at the crucifix upon the front wall. After about the third hymn, Rose decided she’d paid enough respects and left, keeping the number of church services she had ever attended in their entirety to exactly two. She slipped out the front door, and headed back up Clover Street toward the center of town.
Even though it was almost noon, it was still fairly dark in Corley’s Crossing. Tucked at the bottom of a deep valley, Corley’s Crossing didn’t get much sun this time of year. Rose looked up at the old, worn mountains that had been there every day her entire life, and she wondered – not for the first time – what it would be like to live in a place where there were no hills, no mountains, where there was lots of sun and where she could see for miles.
When she got back to the Lambert, she found Isaac carrying cases of beer downstairs. It was the Old Prospero’s.
“He delivered on a Saturday?”
“Yes, ma’am, he surely did,” Isaac said. “He said he was sorry to miss you, and he gave his sorrows for the funeral.”
Rose nodded. She was, to her surprise, a bit disappointed that she’d missed him. “Did you get the soup for tonight on?”
“Yup. Turned out pretty good, too. I hope you don’t mind, but I added some things to it.”
Rose laughed. Isaac was always adding more garlic or more pepper or more something to her dishes when she wasn’t looking. “I’ll go change and then I’ll be down to give you a hand.” She went upstairs, to her room, and changed out of the dress and into her usual man’s shirt and overalls.
Old Mordecai Franks was the first one in the bar, as always. “Evening, Mordecai,” Rose said as he pulled himself onto his normal stool. She drew him a beer and put it in front of him. “Were you at the funeral?”
“Yeah, I was there.” He took a sip. “Son-of-a-bitch always cheated at cards, though.” Mordecai had a very long memory for things like that card game, which had been years ago. He hadn’t played Enoch since.
She went through all of her usual motions that night, pouring drinks and serving bowls of thick chicken soup for these miners who had nothing better to do than go to a tavern for beer and whiskey and food cooked by someone other than the missus who didn’t know shit about cooking since she’d learned it all from her mother who was just as bad. Rose turned the radio on at seven o’clock so they could hear some program about detectives or something if they wanted, or maybe even a ballgame if the air was clear and if any of those night games were on. In a lot of ways it was a typical night at the Lambert. Until the kegs all went dry, in the same five minutes.
Around ten o’clock or so, Mordecai – who was pretty drunk by now – asked for his ninth beer. Rose tried to draw it for him, but the tap just gurgled and dispensed a few chunks of foam that in a few hours might dissolve into half a sip of beer. “Dammit,” Rose said under her breath. “Bender’s is out, Mordecai. How about the Winling?”
“Whatever,” Mordecai said. “It all tastes the same anyway.”
She put the glass under the other tap, pulled it forward, and – same thing, same damn thing. Gurgling, foam, and no beer.
“Dammit, Isaac!” she yelled. “We need to change both kegs!”
“Both?” Isaac was sitting at a corner table reading some book he’d been working on for months. “Right now?”
“Right now. They both dried up on me.”
“Both,” Isaac echoed. “That’s a damn weird thing. Be right back.” He disappeared down the narrow stairs to the basement, while Rose waited. Other miners were starting to line up at the bar, waiting for their own refills. Rose took care of the ones who were having whiskey while she waited for the sound of Isaac whacking the basement pipes with a crowbar, his signal to tell her he’d tapped the new kegs. But the ringing never came; instead, Isaac came back upstairs.
“Miss Rose, we got a problem,” he said. “There ain’t any other kegs to hook up.”
“What?” Rose said. That was totally impossible. Last week there’d been one of each, she knew there had. She’d gone downstairs to check herself before she’d placed her weekly order at the Co-op. “Look again, Isaac. They’re down there.”
“No, they’re not,” Isaac said. “I looked everywhere. Twice. That basement ain’t that big. There ain’t any other beer down there. We’re stone out. And there’s no more whiskey, either.”
Now Rose’s jaw dropped. She didn’t keep much on hand, sure enough – “A good barkeep doesn’t keep more than a week’s whiskey on hand, ever”, as her father had said – but there was no way she was out of everything. “How can we have nothing at all down there? I thought for sure—”
“Where the hell is my beer!” Mordecai shouted. This was the time of night when he started getting pissy.
Rose rubbed her forehead. It had been a bad week, what with Enoch and Edna and the funeral and all, but how could she have forgotten to order enough beer and whiskey? But the she remembered that new stuff. For some reason she hadn’t told anyone about it, but now she had to. “I’ve got something new for you to try, Mordecai,” she said as she opened the cooler at her knee and pulled out a bottle of the Old Prospero’s.
“A bottle?” Mordecai said, recoiling. “Damn, what’s next?”
“It’s what I have, you old sot,” Rose snapped. “Do you want it or not?”
Mordecai sighed and made a gesture like he didn’t care. Rose popped the cap off the bottle and set it on the bar in front of him. She watched as he picked it up, looked at the bottle, shook his head, and finally took a sip. Then he put the bottle down. “It’ll do,” he said.
“I’m so glad you approve,” Rose said as she went about serving the Old Prospero’s to everyone else who needed a drink. With each bottle that she opened she got a whiff of that wonderful smell of wheat and honey that she remembered from when she’d tasted it, and after just a short while it was as if that smell was filling the bar itself. She wondered if these crusty old miners were enjoying the same feeling of warmth she had felt when she’d first sipped it. Probably not, she decided. These were experienced drinkers; Rose generally avoided the stuff. “Drunk barkeep ain’t worth a damn,” her father had said.
She whirled around, not believing her ears, because it was Mordecai. He sounded…different, somehow.
“Another one already?” she asked, noting the empty bottle in his hand.
“Please,” he said. Rose blinked. He never said “please”. “And do you think we could get something better than this game on the radio? Maybe some music.”
Rose blinked at him, again. It just didn’t look like the same old Mordecai. For one thing, his eyes were all the way open and they weren’t bloodshot.
“Sure, Mordecai,” Rose said.
He smiled – my God, the old bastard actually smiled – and then he leaned over and began turning the knobs on the radio, spinning the dial past static-filled frequencies before finally hitting on one to his liking. Then he turned up the volume, and the voice of Billie Holiday rose above the din of the bar. The radio made her sound tinny and scratchy, but that didn’t matter at all. Rose washed some glasses in the bar sink while Billie Holiday’s singing filled the Lambert. And then all of the miners stopped what they were doing – all of them, the ones playing cards, the ones eating soup, the ones not doing much of anything at all. The bar fell silent except for the singer whose voice had never been heard there before, at least not at night. Rose found that even though she knew the song, it sounded like she’d never heard it before, like it was totally new. When the song ended, Mordecai let out a long sigh.
“She sure can sing,” he said.
“That she can,” Rose replied.
They listened to more music after that: Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. It was the quietest, nicest night Rose could ever remember, and it happened in the Lambert when it was full of drinking miners. When she’d closed and they’d all gone home, she decided that as soon as that salesman came around again she would order more of the Old Prospero’s. She drank a bottle of it herself, after she’d locked the doors and Isaac had left for the night. She felt more good than tired, and when she finally went to bed not only did she fall asleep faster than she had in months, but she also didn’t dream about Enoch.
Rose made a pot of peppercorn soup the next day, from her father’s recipe. She was putting the last ingredients – potatoes and leeks – into the pot when a voice called her from outside.
“Hello?” It was the salesman, Daniel. Rose recognized the voice immediately, and her heart quickened.
“Just a minute,” she called as she put in a dash of tarragon before going outside to meet him. The day was crisp and cool. Autumn had come to Corley’s Crossing. Daniel stood there, smiling and leaning on the fender of his truck.
“Afternoon,” he said, tipping his hat. “You’re a vision, I must say.”
“A vision?” She laughed. A vision indeed, a vision wearing a man’s shirt and faded overalls.
“Any woman can be beautiful in a chiffon gown bedecked with diamonds,” he said.
Rose blushed. No one had ever spoken like this to her before.
“I wanted to see how the Old Prospero’s was going,” he said.
“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t start selling it until last night, but once I did, no one bought anything else.”
“I told you!” he said with a wide grin. “That beer will change things around here, you mark my words. I can bring you six more cases tomorrow.”
“Well, I can’t deliver beer to you on a Sunday, can I?”
“No, I guess not,” she said, feeling ridiculous again. He took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair. “Well, I guess that’s that, then – unless you’d care to show me around your town? I’ve been driving all weekend, and I’d really go for a walk with a lovely lady right now.”
Rose laughed. “I’ll bet you could,” she said. It was a very smooth line, after all. But she also felt a little hesitant. Funny how you could want something and be scared of it at the same time.
“I have a pot of soup on,” she said.
“Miss Barnstone,” Daniel said with mock severity, “are you turning me down for a pot of soup?”
“No!” she said. “I mean – I’ll just turn the stove all the way down. It’ll be fine. Needs to simmer a while, anyway.”
She went back in to do just that, and then she rejoined him. He had taken off his jacket and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“This way,” Rose said, leading him around the front of the Lambert into the center of town. They walked along the town square first.
“Have you lived here all your life?” he asked.
“All my life,” she said. “Sometimes I’ve thought about moving on, or just seeing someplace else, but I never do. I can’t leave the Lambert behind. My father built it. I couldn’t let it go.”
“There isn’t a town in this country where you can’t live well by serving drinks,” Daniel said. Rose glanced at him. He had sounded a little bitter just then, but it didn’t show in his face.
They reached the spot where the trees in the square parted and the sidewalk branched, the righthand branch leading straight to the bronze statue at the square’s center. Daniel pointed to it.
“Is that Corley?” he asked.
“Interesting likeness,” Daniel said. “A lot of towns have statues like this for their local heroes. Most times they look proud, like they could burst out of the bronze and retake Cemetery Ridge all by themselves. But your Corley looks – tired.”
“He looks beaten,” Rose said. “Because that’s what he was.” Folks around here didn’t like to think of their town’s hero and namesake being a beaten man, but that was it. Corley had led the Fifty-First Infantry Lancers against some Confederates, and when they’d been beaten he’d led his men here, where he’d crossed the Tassanaqua with all of his remaining men when the river was at flood-stage. He’d got half of his men killed in a stupid battle, but for not getting the other half killed doing something just as stupid he’d got a town named after him.
“I’d love to see the river,” Daniel said after he’d studied the statue of Captain Edward Aloysius Corley for a minute or two.
“You didn’t see it when you drove in?”
“From the cab of my truck, through a line of trees,” Daniel said. “Not the same as walking along the riverbank with a lovely woman to guide me.”
Rose gave a humorous scowl. “This way,” she said and led him past the town square onto Route 23, which wound down and out of the village toward the deep Tassanaqua River Valley. On the way she told him a little about the town history – how it had been founded by Nehemiah Lambert and named for him until they’d changed it to Corley’s Crossing. She shortly fell silent; the town was pretty old but that didn’t mean it had a lot of history to it.
When they were a half-mile away from the river they could already hear the rush of its water, which was impressive given that it was autumn and the river was at its low point for the year. In spring, when the river was bloated by fresh snowmelt, its roar could be deafening.
“This way,” Rose said, suddenly veering from the road and headed instead onto a steep path that dipped sharply down through the trees. She knew this path well. Her father had brought her this way many times, either for fishing or to wade out into the shallows and grab crawdads for the soup pot. Daniel kept up surprisingly well; he was definitely not one of those salesman who only saw the world as it rolled by the windows of his truck. Fifteen minutes later they stood on one of the huge boulders that jutted out into the green and black waters of the Tassanaqua. This spot was the middle of a tight S-bend, so tight in fact that the big bridge was just a half-mile upstream but it couldn’t be seen at all. Daniel looked back and forth, upstream and down, with his hands in his back pockets.
“Nobody fishing today,” he said.
“The better pools are down around the next bend,” Rose said.
Daniel stepped to the very end of the boulder and knelt down; Rose did likewise, kneeling beside him. “Fast water,” he said. “Are there a lot of drownings here?” he asked.
“Some,” Rose said. Percy Stewart had been the last one. Sheriff Fanton had pulled him out of the water just past the next bend.
They didn’t talk for a while after that. Somehow it just felt right, sitting beside the river with this man.
“The sunlight is a lot more flattering to you than the light in that bar,” Daniel said after a while.
He was smiling, but not as broadly as before – it was a softer, more intimate smile, and Rose looked away quickly even as he drew closer. She’d never been down here with a man before, except to help her father fishing, of course. The thought had certainly never occurred to Enoch Spencer. Daniel drew in closer.
“You know,” she said, “the most amazing thing happened when I started serving the Old Prospero’s…”
“Why aren’t you married, Rose? May I call you Rose?”
Yes please call me Rose… She could only stare at him, into those deep, green eyes, and nod. Her heart pounded in her chest, faster and faster.
“You deserve more than drunkards and adulterers,” he said. “You deserve so much more than what you’ve been given.”
Rose held her breath as Daniel took her in his arms with an embrace that was strong and gentle. He held her the way he would hold something fragile. When his lips met hers, his kiss tasted a tiny bit like the Old Prospero’s. Oh my God, Rose thought. What she said was, “Oh, Daniel...”
On the walk back through town, Daniel told Rose about Paris and some of the other places he'd been. As they walked past the co-op, Rose glanced inside, and then she glanced away just as quickly. Edna was in there, with her two friends. Luckily they didn’t see her.
“Did you feel that?” Daniel asked once they were past the co-op. “There was a chill just now.”
Rose hadn’t felt any chill, but then, Edna was there and Edna could chill anybody. They walked in silence back to the Lambert. When they got back, Rose offered him a bowl of the soup before he left, but he said he’d really better be going or he’d be behind on his run tomorrow. But before he left, he leaned forward and whispered in Rose’s ear:
“Under floods that are deepest, Which Neptune obey, Over rocks that are steepest, Love will find out the way.”
He smiled again, the same small smile from before, and then he took his leave. Rose watched after him for a time, and then she went inside to finish getting the bar ready for opening. As she entered the kitchen, she realized by the smell that she’d gotten the soup exactly right.
When she got up the next morning, Daniel had already been there and left eight cases of Old Prospero’s on the back step, with a piece of paper folded and stuck between the slats of one of the cases. She unfolded it and read:
“Fairest Rose, Business calls me elsewhere. I hope to be back in Corley’s Crossing before the week is out. Keep well. Love, Daniel.”
He has lovely handwriting, Rose thought, and when she sniffed the note she found that it smelled of lavender.
Mordecai Franks wasn’t the first one in the door that night, strangely enough; fifteen men were waiting on the doorstep when Rose unlocked. They were from Junctiontown, a small settlement – it wasn’t an official town – right on the railroad tracks where these men lived with their families. Most of them worked some of the local farm fields or at the logging company in Hoptonville, and few of them ever came into Corley’s Crossing except to go into the Co-op and come out again a few minutes later with provisions but without saying hello or much of anything else to anybody. The boys from Junctiontown weren’t exactly welcome in Corley’s Crossing, but they weren’t chased away, either. Rose approached the only one of them she knew by name. Micah Kingsley, it was.
“Evenin’, Ma’am,” he said in a voice that was deeper and softer than Isaac’s. “We heard somethin’, and – well, we’re wonderin’ if it’s true.”
“And what’s that?” Rose asked.
“We’ve heard you’re servin’ somethin’ new. A beer that – well, we’d be obliged if we could try some.”
The other men nodded in agreement. Free country, Rose thought – and Father had always said that a barkeep’s got no business turning away a thirsty man with money, unless he’s too damn drunk already to know the difference between a quarter and a carp. These men were mostly quiet folk, but sometimes quiet people could create problems just by being quiet, if they were quiet around the right noisy people. “Look,” she said, “I’m not turning you away, because I never have and I’m not starting now. But if any trouble starts, I need you boys to be the bigger men here. Understand?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Micah Kingsley.
Rose stepped aside and let Micah and his friends in. Every one of them stood at the bar, in a nice row like the pictures of men in the army, while she put a cold bottle of Old Prospero’s in front of each man. Micah lifted his bottle to his nose, sniffed the beer inside, and smiled. He nodded to his friends, and one by one they took their first sips. Rose nearly laughed – they were taking this so damned seriously – but she didn’t. When they’d all swallowed they lifted their faces skyward as if each man was saying a silent benediction for the golden beer.
The front door clattered. “What the hell is this?” It was Mordecai Franks. Rose braced herself. Nothing good had ever come from Mordecai being in the same room as the Junctiontown boys, unless Rose put her foot down first which was the way it had to be with Mordecai on just about everything.
“Paying customers, Mordecai,” she said. “They got money, and that mean’s they’re welcome.”
Mordecai stared at Micah the whole time he pulled himself onto his usual stool. “You like that beer?” he asked, louder than he really needed to since Micah was standing right next to him.
Micah took another slow sip, closed his eyes, opened them again, and nodded. “Yes, sir. I do.”
Mordecai nodded. “Me, too,” he said. “How about it, Rose?”
Rose sighed as she handed Mordecai his first beer of the night. As the Lambert began to fill with customers, Rose began to think that things might be all right.
The next day was one of her two weekly trips to the Co-op to stock the kitchen. As she walked through town, enjoying the brisk chill of a fall morning in Corley’s Crossing, she looked up at the high hills all around the town, and suddenly she wanted very much to go over them and beyond, to see the world that they kept away from this town. It was a familiar feeling, but stronger now than it had ever been before.
When she got to the Co-op, she could hear the voices inside before she went in.
“Damnedest thing I’ve heard of,” said Ethan Gentry. Rose would recognize that smoker’s rasp of his anywhere. He’d been a good customer until he’d stopped drinking; now the Reverend Holton considered Ethan his greatest convert. Strange thing to Rose’s mind, though, was that he still smoked and the Reverend never said a thing about it. “Place was always so quiet,” Ethan went on. “Never even much of a good fight to be had there.”
“That’s cause all the tough ones go to the Valley Inn.” That would be Georgie Brickman. He did his drinking at the Valley, a disgusting dive down by the train depot. “You wouldn’t last five minutes in the Valley, Ethan, and that’s a fact.”
“So I was sayin’,” Ethan continued, “last night I’m out walkin’ cause I can’t sleep, war wound, you know”—his ‘war wound’ consisted, Rose knew, of a half-inch scar that Ethan insisted had come from a Spaniard rifle but had really been a rose bush thorn or something –“and I walk by that place, and everybody in there’s singin’ and laughin’ like it’s New Year!”
“So they do weird stuff there when they’re drinkin’,” Georgie said. “Nothin’ unusual about that.”
“There is when it’s miners doin’ the weird stuff with boys from Junctiontown,” Ethan said.
“Junctiontown? Damn,” said Georgie. “She’s lettin’ them in the Lambert, eh?”
“And what if I am, Georgie?” Rose said, loudly, letting the door slam shut behind her just as loudly. The four men clustered around the counter – Ethan, Georgie, Virgil Cotter, and Mr. Ludlow who owned the Co-op – looked up at her.
“Oh, Rose!” Mr. Ludlow said. “It’s Tuesday, isn’t it!”
She listed the items she needed, and Mr. Ludlow went off to check the stock.
“Say, Rose,” Ethan said, “would your father hold with the things that are goin’ on in his bar?”
Rose shrugged. “It’s not his bar anymore, Ethan.”
“Well, it’s a different place now,” said Ethan.
“Yeah it is,” Rose replied. “Since Dad died we’ve given it a couple coats of paint.”
“That’s not all of it,” Ethan said. “You’re servin’ those boys from Junctiontown.”
“And so did my father, when they came in and they had money and they were thirsty,” Rose said, her voice rising a bit. “I used to serve you when you were thirsty, Ethan.”
She glared at him, and he backed down a bit. Georgie, however, spoke up.
“I hear you’re servin’ somethin’ new over there,” he said.
“Just a new beer,” Rose said. “Come on by and try it.”
“Maybe when I have money. Your drinks are too expensive.”
“I charge the same for a beer that Sam Evans does at the Valley,” Rose said. “It’s just that I charge for a glass of beer. Sam charges for two-thirds beer, one-third water.”
Ethan laughed at that, but Rose had no idea why. It wasn’t funny, and she hadn’t meant it to be.
“Well, Rose, I’ve got most of it.” Mr. Ludlow’s voice preceded him as he came back to the front of the store. “I’m expecting the rest of it tomorrow, as long as the train’s on time.”
“I’ll have Isaac come and pick it all up,” Rose replied. Then she thanked him and left the store. It was probably her annoyance at having to talk to those two clods at all in there that made her completely miss the fact that Edna and her two friends were coming up the step.
“Excuse me, Edna,” Rose said as she tried to duck by the woman.
“By all means, Miss Barnstone,” she heard Edna say. “After all, you must get back to your dirty place of business and keep the town’s drunkards happy.”
Rose might have ignored that, if not for her delightful conversation inside. Instead, she stopped. “Drunkards like your husband, Edna?”
Edna only smiled, that tight-lipped smile that she smiled when she found something unamusing. It was, as far as Rose knew, the only smile she ever used. “My husband had some weaknesses for depravity, but he always made amends by coming home to me. Who comes home to you, Miss Barnstone?”
Edna and her friends did not wait for a reply, which was just as well because Rose didn’t have one. Rose turned and walked up the street, fighting the tears welling in her eyes all the way back to the Lambert. Why was it that the most hurtful truths were always spoken by the most hurtful people?
The crowd at the Lambert was even bigger that night, so big that there was barely room to walk inside once the night was going full-speed. All those people in the bar, all those men, drinking away – and the only sounds were laughter, singing, and cheerful talk. Miners and farmworkers, town men and boys from Junctiontown, old drunks and young men without mustaches tasting their first beers – all were there, drinking the Old Prospero’s.
At about ten o’clock Rose glanced outside the front door and saw Sheriff Fanton standing there. He had nothing to do, except to keep an eye on what was going on when there were so many people in one place. She thought of when her father had died, and Fanton had come to her the first day she’d opened the Lambert after becoming her bar. “Woman’s gonna have a tough time in this business,” he’d said. “What will you do when a fight breaks out?”
“Same thing my father would have done,” she’d replied. “Break it up and either kick them out or buy them a beer.”
The Sheriff had nodded and left it at that, and that’s just what she had done on those rare occasions. A good barkeep, after all, didn’t let things get to the point where a fight happened.
So there he was tonight, watching, with nothing else to do at all. Rose thought about inviting him in, but decided against it.
When the night was over, Isaac walked Mordecai home as usual, leaving Rose alone. She was always so tired at the end of a night, but those last few days it had been a welcome tired, the exhaustion that comes after a night of hard work but still felt good. She poured herself a glass of water – she didn’t like to drink this late at night – and sat at the bar, sipping it. Then she heard the front door rattle behind her, and when she turned she saw Daniel standing outside on the front step. She laughed and rose to let him in.
“I’ve driven a long way,” he said after he entered. “Is there a bed in this town for a traveler?”
“For a traveler, maybe,” Rose said. “For you, definitely.”
She swallowed the rest of her water.
“I was hoping you’d come,” she said.
“I’m almost out of beer again.” She giggled lightly as she said it, and he laughed to hear it.
“I brought fifteen cases with me,” he said. “We can bring them in tomorrow.”
“There’s something special about the Old Prospero’s, isn’t there?” she asked. He opened his mouth to reply, but she put her hand over his mouth and shook her head. “Later,” she said, taking him by the hand and leading him upstairs to her bed.
Afterwards, when the night had at last gone quiet except for the sound of their own satisfied breathing, Daniel rolled toward her.
“What’s in the beer?” she asked.
Daniel shook his head. “I only sell it,” he said. “But I can tell you more about Paris.”
She smiled, and he told her more about Paris until they both fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Daniel spent the entire next day with Rose. When she jokingly asked him if he could afford to neglect his other customers, he laughed and said that there would be plenty of time for other customers later. “Besides, this is such a pretty town,” he said. Rose laughed that off, but he’d actually sounded like he’d meant it.
That night was just as wonderful as the one before had been, both for the atmosphere in the Lambert and for what happened in Rose’s bed afterward. So was the next night, and the night after that. The fourth night – Friday night, as it happened – started out normally. Mordecai came in, followed by a steady stream of miners and boys from Junctiontown. All were drinking Old Prospero’s – the whiskey bottles behind the bar were starting to get dusty – and it all seemed so normal that Rose could barely remember the way things had been before.
“Hey, what’s going on out there?” Rose heard someone say.
“I don’t know,” someone else answered.
“It’s all the women,” said another.
“Nah, there’s men too. Look, there’s Ethan Gentry, Georgie Brickman, Ralph Hunt – and isn’t that Reverend Holton?”
The men in the bar were all starting to cluster around the Lambert’s bay windows. Rose put down the tray of empties she was holding. Glancing at Daniel, she said, “I wonder what’s going on.”
Daniel shook his head. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
Rose looked at him for a moment, wondering what he meant by that. He said nothing more, and she walked over to the windows, pushing her way through the cluster of men to look outside. There, across the street, was a large crowd of mostly women and some men – the men who didn’t frequent the Lambert. And in front of them all was the Reverend Malachi Holton, of Old Presbyterian. He was leading them in singing. No one in the bar could hear what it was, but Rose knew a bunch of churchfolk singing a hymn when she saw them. She further recognized the prim and proper trio of ladies standing immediately behind the Reverend, and she wondered if the little gathering – not so little, actually – was Edna Spencer’s idea in the first place.
“Damn,” said Mordecai. “Who the hell are they prayin’ for?”
“Us,” Isaac said.
“What?” someone asked.
“They don’t hold with drinkin’,” Micah Kingsley said.
“Why?” Mordecai said. “We ain’t hurtin’ anything.”
“It doesn’t matter,” came another voice. It was Daniel’s. He still sat at the bar, facing away from the windows. “Not one of those people out there cares if you’re hurting a single soul with what you’re doing.” He made no effort to raise his voice, so everyone had to fall silent to hear him. Now Rose could hear the singing of the churchfolk outside: “Onward Christian Soldiers”, one of the three or four hymns she knew. “Who gets hurt, who doesn’t get hurt – none of it matters to them. You see, a person will do some pretty strange things when he thinks that it’s what God wants him to do. And you sure can’t talk to them, because to them, God’s already done all the talking. I mean, why listen to a guy like you or me when you’ve already talked to God? The Almighty’s a pretty hard act to follow.”
“But what if it isn’t God talkin’ at all?” Mordecai asked.
“I hope you don’t think they ever consider that possibility,” Daniel said, his voice even softer now. There was silence for a minute or two, silence that was filled by the people out there who had now moved on to “Rock of Ages”.
“Ain’t there somethin’ on the radio we could be listenin’ to?” Mordecai said. He returned to his stool and clicked on the radio, finding the tinny sound of The Inkspots singing “If I Didn’t Care” and turning up loud enough to drown out the Christians, both real and pretend, who were singing their hymns across the street. Gradually everyone left the windows and returned to their drinks. Rose went back to serving, although she kept glancing outside until the gathering broke up, about half an hour later.
“Sidewalk’s a pretty strange place for a revival,” she said once as she passed by Daniel. He said nothing, and the look in his eye was halfway between sadness and anger.
“You want this in there?” Rose asked when she had finished dicing the onions, peppers and celery and stood with the cutting board next to Daniel, who had stirred his roux until it was darker than Rose had ever seen one.
He nodded. “Then we’ll need the cut-up sausage.”
She slid the vegetables into the pot, where they immediately began sizzling. Daniel stirred them about quickly, and Rose cast a suspicious eye on the pot. “You’re sure the men are going to like this?”
“They eat this by the gallon in Louisiana,” Daniel said. “They’ll love it.”
Rose shrugged and began cutting up the five pounds of smoked sausage, glancing at him quite often as she did so. There had been a certain urgency in their lovemaking the night before, as if he had suddenly discovered a reason to fear that she might no longer be there for him. When they’d risen in the morning, he had announced that he was leaving for Hoptonville, but he’d be back by noon. Sure enough, he’d come back at eleven thirty with a bunch of special ingredients he’d bought at the store there, for something called “gumbo”.
Rose was finishing the sausage when Isaac came into the kitchen. “Someone to see you, Miss Rose,” he said.
“Anybody important?” she asked.
“Reverend Holton,” said Isaac. Then, with a look of displeasure, he added: “And Mrs. Spencer.”
“Oh, God,” Rose said. “I don’t have enough – ah, hell.” She glanced at Daniel as she wiped her hands on a towel. If he’d been offended by her swearing just then, he didn’t show it. Instead, she kissed him on the cheek and then drew a deep breath before heading out into the bar where she found Reverend Holton sitting a table, with Edna Spencer standing behind him. He made an exaggerated show of standing up when Rose entered.
“Good afternoon, Rose,” he said. “I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“So this is a social call, Reverend?”
“In a way,” he said with a smile that was not remotely as warm as Daniel’s despite his best efforts to fill his smile with the warmth of the Lord.
“In what way?” Rose asked. “I never expected a social call from you – and certainly not from you, Edna. Where are Alice and Mabel? I’m surprised to see you without them.”
Edna returned Rose’s gaze. “Good afternoon, Miss Barnstone.” She made no effort at all to speak with warmth, false or otherwise. The Reverend cleared his throat.
“Now, Rose, won’t you sit and talk with me for a bit?” He gestured to the empty chair across the table from him. Rose shrugged and sat down, not facing him directly. She had no intention of giving him her undivided attention, or even of allowing him to think that he had it.
“What’s on your mind, Reverend?”
“I am a man of respect and authority in Corley’s Crossing,” Holton said. “So, when certain things come to my attention – things that are happening in this town – it behooves me to learn what I can about them.”
“And?” Rose said, trying to sound bored. Reverend Holton smiled again, and Rose actually shivered. Every churchman has a smile, her father had told her. Not all those smiles are real. Learn to tell the difference. This, she was certain, was one of the false ones.
“And, my dear, I am now hearing some interesting things about recent nights in the Lambert Hotel.”
Rose leaned back in her chair. “I’m not sure how interesting anything happening in my bar could be,” she said.
“Indeed, but they are; and I was hoping you could tell me about them.”
Rose made a show of thinking it over, and then she shook her head. “I can’t think of what might be interesting you about my bar. We haven’t even had a fight in two months. It’s just the usual: honest working men coming in for a drink after the mines close.”
“Is that all they come in for?” the Reverend asked. Behind him, Edna snorted.
“Well,” Rose said, “some of them might be looking for something more than a drink – especially if they’re not getting what they need at home.”
Edna, turning red, glared at Rose. “How dare you,” she said.
“How dare I what?” Rose said, innocently. “I’m talking about the food. Can’t you smell it?” She took a deep, exaggerated breath. The aroma of Daniel’s gumbo had begun wafting in a few minutes before.
Reverend Holton shifted a bit. “Part of what I’m hearing is that you’re not just serving miners. In fact, I’m not just hearing it. I saw it with my own eyes. You had some of those Junctiontown boys in here.”
“What of it?” Rose snapped. “That’s no crime, and the Lambert is my bar.”
“So you have no concern for the community?”
Rose gritted her teeth. “They pay, they start no trouble, and when I close they go home.”
“Trouble always follows, Rose.” Reverend Holton leaned back in his chair and began fanning himself with his hat, even though it wasn’t hot. Funny how men of God always seemed to sweat a lot. “Trouble follows these people, Rose. It’s why we prefer it if they keep to Junctiontown. And why now, anyway? You’ve always run an honest business, for the most part”—he glanced now at Edna—“but now you are catering to men who have their own places to go for this sort of thing. Why now, Rose?”
It’s the beer, you fat hypocrite, Rose thought. She wanted to scream it at him and then throw him out of the bar, but of course she couldn’t do that….
But why not?
She thought of Mordecai Franks and Micah Kingsley and how they’d taught each other about Billie Holiday and old Irish ballads over bottles of Old Prospero’s – an old miner who loved a torch singer and a black farmhand who danced one hell of a jig. She thought of all the old miners, and the young ones – some who could quote Shakespeare and another who had the best singing voice she’d ever heard, and yet another who could speak French. All those things no one had known about each other, because nobody had ever cared enough to get to know anyone else beyond how well he held his pickaxe. She thought of Daniel and of his warmth beside her. Enoch had never been warm.
“Maybe if you come down for a drink sometime, you’ll understand,” Rose said.
The Reverend’s eyes flashed, and he stopped fanning himself – for just a moment. “I’m afraid that would be impossible for a man in my position,” he said.
“Your loss,” Rose said. “A man in your position could use a drink. You too, Edna.” She took some satisfaction in Edna’s little, proper gasp of horror. The Reverend simply put on his hat and stood up.
“Good day, Rose,” he said, filling his voice with as much authority as he could muster. “I hope you’ll take what I’ve said into your heart. It’s never too late to come back to the Lord. His House is large, and I will pray for you.”
Rose said nothing at all as he and Edna left. She only held Edna’s gaze, returning the other woman’s glare measure-for-measure. When they had gone, she closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. She could use a drink right now, although it was really too early in the day for that. Maybe if Daniel was almost done with the gumbo, they could go upstairs for a while. The warmth of his body beside her would be very comforting right now…she rose from the chair, turned to face the kitchen. She saw Daniel’s back, disappearing into the kitchen. He had been listening, and she wondered how much he had heard.
And then she heard the whistle from the mine, echoing through the valley. At one o’clock in the afternoon.
Rose shivered. It was time for another wake at the Lambert.
No one would drink the Old Prospero’s tonight; this was a night for the strong stuff that burned on the way down because the burning was how the miners reminded themselves that they hadn’t been the one. They’d just come for a night of quiet drinking in memory of whatever sad bastard’s name was being said in nothing louder than a hushed whisper. The name tonight was Abraham York, Mabel’s husband. Edna’s little trio had lost two of its three husbands.
But not quite yet. Abe’s cave-in hadn’t killed him outright, even though his head had been bashed about like a baseball and his legs had been crushed to nothing and his lungs had filled with dust. Somehow when they’d dug him out he hadn’t died yet, and when they got him home the poor bastard still wasn’t dead. Not that there was any hope for him; Doc Bly had been pretty damned clear about that. Abe was going, and heaven only knew why he hadn’t gone yet. So Mabel was there at her husband’s bedside, holding his hand and waiting for him to die. He should have died instantly, and only some mockery of mercy had kept him alive this long. Even though he hadn’t died yet, the miners in the Lambert toasted Abe’s memory, because he was as good as dead anyway.
John Reeves came in around eight. “Reverend Holton’s over there now,” he reported. “Won’t be long.”
Daniel, who had been helping Rose, cleared his throat. “Was anybody with him when it happened?”
“Yeah,” said Oscar Newcastle. “Jeb Shepard was with him. They’ve been a lot more serious about the buddy-thing since Enoch Spencer died.”
“Did anything happen to Jeb?” Daniel asked.
“Nothing. He came out coughin’ a lot, but he didn’t even get a limp.”
Rose glanced at Daniel, but he had already turned away, nodding.
It was a quiet night, damned quiet. The quietest Rose could remember. There wasn’t any music or singing, and there weren’t any cheerful stories about Abe York because he wasn’t the kind of man people told stories about. It was just quiet, the sort that scared the hell out of any barkeep worth a damn.
At their normal time of night, Micah Kingsley and the other Junctiontown boys arrived. Micah got two steps into the Lambert before Luther Marks stopped him. “Sorry, boys,” luther said. “We’re waitin’ on word of one of our own dyin’.”
“It’s all one town,” Micah said.
“You boys ain’t miners,” Luther replied.
“It’s all the ground,” Micah said.
Rose had been listening, and then she spoke up. “It’s all right, Luther. Micah’s right – they got as much right to mourn as anybody.”
Luther looked at Rose, then at Micah, and then back at Rose. Finally he nodded. “Your bar,” he said.
So Micah and the other Junctiontown boys came in, and they ordered their usual too – which was Old Prospero’s. At the sight of those bottles, and at the sound of the caps being popped off the tops, Mordecai Franks downed what was left of his whiskey. “Give me one of those too,” he said. “This hard stuff just ain’t my style anymore.”
And just like that, all the miners put aside the dull drinks they’d all been nursing out of respect for a man who hadn’t even been a drinker to start with. And, just as gradually, they began to talk – about how long the mine could go on, and how Abe’s kids would make out, and how Corley’s Crossing was going to survive since the trains weren’t coming by three times a day anymore and the mine wasn’t producing as much coal anymore – some laughter, a little joking, but mostly talk. Rose kept the Old Prospero’s moving, glancing now and again Daniel’s way and wondering at the unwavering, intent expression on his face.
Reverend Holton came in a little after eleven. He glanced around at the crowd and then at Rose; finally he took off his hat and spoke. “Abraham York died half-an-hour ago. The funeral will be Saturday.” One more glance at Rose, and he left. Silence settled over the Lambert.
“To Abe York,” Daniel said suddenly, holding up his own bottle of Old Prospero’s. Rose hadn’t even noticed that he was drinking, but at least he looked relaxed now after looking so serious all night.
“To Abe,” a scattershot chorus of miners and Junctiontown boys replied. Earlier they had toasted a dying miner; now they toasted a dead one.
Daniel went with Rose to Abe’s funeral, even though he had never met Abe and didn’t know him from Adam. This time Rose stayed for the entire service. She hadn’t been sleeping with Abe, so she had no reason to avoid Abe’s wife – other than avoiding Edna, which didn’t seem that important. Daniel stood beside her, wearing a nice shirt and tie she didn’t know he owned. He looked strange, all gussied-up like that.
Daniel wasn’t the only stranger at Abe York’s funeral. Just before the service began, three older-looking men entered the church. These men wore very nice suits, a lot nicer than you’d find in any closet in Corley’s Crossing. These three men in the tailored suits walked up to Mabel York, and they each kissed her on the cheek. Then they found a place to sit and wait for the service to begin.
“Who are those fellows, I wonder,” Rose said.
“Businessmen,” Daniel said with a surprising tone of contempt in his voice. “I’ll bet they own the mine.”
“You don’t like businessmen?” she asked.
“I don’t like what businessmen worship,” Daniel replied.
That’s an odd thing to say, Rose thought. And Daniel was beginning to sweat, even though it wasn’t all that hot inside the church yet. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I just don’t like churches much,” Daniel said.
Reverend Holton came out a few minutes later and started the service. It was the typical, dull stuff that went on at all church services, and as usual Rose found herself wondering how anyone could do this each and every Sunday. She didn’t sing the hymns, because she didn’t know any of the words, although she did hold an open hymnal so as not to appear completely lost. She held the hymnal up so that Daniel could see the words, but he didn’t sing either; in fact, he stood glassy-eyed, sweating even worse than before. When the service finally ended and they filed out of Old Presbyterian, Rose looked at Daniel as he mopped his brow with his handkerchief.
“It was too hot in there,” he said.
Rose nodded, but didn’t say anything. She hadn’t thought it too hot inside. At that moment the three mine owners walked by, and Daniel grimaced.
“It’s funny,” Rose said. “They weren’t here for Enoch’s funeral.”
“They’re not here for this one, either,” Daniel said.
Rose wondered what he meant by that, but she chose not to ask. Instead she pointed to Mabel, who had just come out of the church. “Here she comes,” Rose said. “We’ll pay our respects, and then why don’t we go down to the river and look at the autumn leaves?”
Daniel smiled. “That sounds lovely.” His cheeks were returning to their normal color, and Rose took his hand and squeezed it.
Just then Mabel passed in front of Rose, where she stopped. Edna and Alice stood to either side of her, and all three stared at Rose.
“I’m truly sorry, Mabel,” Rose said. “Abe was a fine man.”
Mabel’s expression did not soften; if anything, it became harder. “He was a fine enough man to inspire a night of debauchery for you and that crowd of drunkards of yours,” she said.
Rose recoiled, as if Mabel had slapped her. Edna put her arm around Mabel and showed her past Rose, who said nothing at all. There was, in fact, nothing that she could say.
On Tuesday morning Rose walked, as usual, to the co-op with her usual list of things she needed. As usual, the same bunch of old man were standing around gossiping like a sewing circle. It was unusual, though, in that there were twice as many men in there than on most Tuesdays. That was when she learned the bad news. The mine was closing.
“Two months from today,” said Mr. Ludlow. “They say they can’t get enough coal out of the mountain anymore to make it worth maintaining. Some of the men will still have work over at the Central City mine, but the rest, well….” He trailed off and went to check on Rose’s list, leaving her alone to contemplate that her patrons would soon no longer be miners.
The mood at the Lambert that night started out fairly subdued – even moreso than during any normal wake – but as usual the Old Prospero’s made everyone happier, and things were back to normal by nine o’clock. After that, there was too much singing and laughing going on for these men to really reflect on the impending loss of livelihood.
At ten o’clock, the town’s churchfolk gathered across the street again, but the drinkers in the Lambert ignored them. The only ones who did notice it were Rose, who watched with anger in her eyes, and Daniel, who watched with a mix of anger and fear in his.
The revivals across the street took place nightly now, and every night they got bigger. Soon there were people coming from their farms or houses in the hills – folk who only came to town once a week, if that, although now they were coming every night. The Reverend’s prayers got louder and louder, and once or twice Rose actually went out onto the front porch to listen. The first time, nobody noticed, but the second time Edna Spencer and Mabel York both saw her and pointed her out to Reverend Holton. He turned and, facing Rose, did not miss a beat in his sermon.
“There you are!” he bellowed in that voice of false import that all good churchmen practice until perfect. “You have brought this sin into this town! It is this sin that will destroy this town! You, who have corrupted the men of Corley’s Crossing with foul drink, have brought on us the closing of our mine! You rejected my appeals for your salvation, but it is not too late to do what is right! Rose Barnstone, turn away from Satan and turn back towards the Lord!”
The crowd was right with him all the way, some shouting Amen’s and Hosannah’s and Praise God’s as he segued smoothly into some Bible verse about the fires of Hell and the wrath of the Almighty. Rose shivered and went back inside. She tried to take comfort in the gaiety of her patrons, but she couldn’t. Something was coming, she knew it. She could also see that Daniel was afraid; she could see it in his eyes.
Their lovemaking that night was hard, almost desperate, for both of them. They were both afraid, and when they were done they held each other for a long, long time. The night was not particularly cold, but both shivered.
“Sorry, Miss Rose,” Isaac said. The rock in his hand was about the size of an orange, and it was worn smooth. Someone had chosen it from the Tassanaqua riverbed, just to put it through the front window of the Lambert. The broken glass crunched under Rose’s feet as she surveyed the damage.
“There’s never been anything like this before,” she said. “This bar’s been here since before Corley crossed a damn thing.”
“Well, someone’s sure mad,” Isaac said. “I got some plate glass in the shed from last winter. I’ll get to work on it.” He headed out back, leaving Rose and Daniel alone. She stared at the broken glass for a moment, and then she suddenly recited a list of words that made Daniel wince.
“You should be careful, Rose.” His eyes were full of fear, and she hesitated for a moment.
“What is it?” she finally asked.
“I have seen this before,” he replied. “It always starts this way – a rock through a window or something like that, and then it moves on to other things. It always starts with one rock, in one hand, and a mind full of the notion that it’s doing God’s will.” He picked up a shard of glass and stared at it. “I think I should leave now,” Daniel said after a moment. “I think this town isn’t so safe anymore.”
“Come with me,” he said.
Rose gasped. The look in his eyes was even more fearful now – almost desperate.
“Come with me,” he said again, stepping forward to take her hands in his. “You’ve always wanted to see more than just this valley, more than just this town. You deserve more than this, Rose. Let me give it to you—”
“I can’t,” she said, pulling away, suddenly afraid. Daniel made no effort to stop her. He only held her gaze, looking into her eyes, before she turned away and left the room.
The next thing to happen was the death of Micah Kingsley.
No one would really say what exactly happened, but Micah Kingsley was dead and three of his friends had been beaten up real bad. “Damned shame”, old Mordecai said when he came in and took his seat of honor. Those same sentiments were expressed by all of the Old Prospero’s regulars, and so they gave something of a wake – the best one he’d receive, really – for Micah. When Rose looked out the front window to watch the gathering of the sidewalk revival, she wondered how many of these smiling Christians would take time to offer a prayer, silent or not, for the soul of Micah Kingsley. After that, the boys from Junctiontown stopped coming into the Lambert.
Over the next week there was another rock through the window, and someone painted crosses on all of the Lambert’s doors. The conversations around the counter at the Co-op ended abruptly whenever Rose entered, even moreso than before. Worst of all were the women of the town. Rose had never been one for their company, but now it went from quiet disapproval of the women who owned the bar to open hostility, and it wasn’t just Edna and Mabel and Alice. It was all of them, some of whom Rose didn’t even know by name. Women she couldn’t remember even seeing before would stop her and give her a tongue lashing for tempting fine men away from their families, as if she slept with a different man each night. Time was when Rose would have told them all to go to hell, that their men made their own choices, but now she was just too tired of it all to say anything like that. That, and the more she thought about the Old Prospero’s, she wondered if they really did make their own choices.
With the slackening of business at the Lambert, Rose’s stock of Old Prospero’s moved a lot slower. Where before Rose might have needed to order more in two or three days, she now had a week; and as that day approached, Daniel became more and more nervous. Several times more he asked Rose to come away with him, and each time she refused, saying that despite the strange and ugly things going on, Corley’s Crossing was still her home. The problem was that she didn’t particularly feel that way – the Lambert was home, but the town could go to hell. And yet she couldn’t bring herself to leave with him. And still, the stock of Old Prospero’s in her basement got smaller and smaller.
The day finally came when Rose went downstairs and found that there were only three cases of Old Prospero’s left and it was time to reorder. She had been dreading the coming conversation, but it had to happen, and now was as good a time as any. She turned around to go upstairs and find Daniel…and saw that he was already there, downstairs with her. She hadn’t heard him come down. She started to smile, and stopped. He was shaking his head.
“You can’t ask me to get more,” he said in almost a whisper.
“You can’t keep serving the Old Prospero’s. Nothing good can come of it. Nothing good ever does.”
“Nothing good?” Rose couldn’t believe that he was saying these things. She couldn’t believe that she was hearing them. “How can you say that? Look at what it’s done for this place!”
“Rocks through your window, those men from Junctiontown beaten for coming into town in what’s supposed to be a free country, people who normally don’t have the time on a Sunday morning to even think about the church suddenly showing up at those damn revivals across the street. All that.”
“It’s not all like that,” Rose protested.
“That’s all it will be,” Daniel said. “Every time I come into a town, the Old Prospero’s helps for a time. For a while it makes things better…but then something else always happens. Darkness comes, and I have to leave.”
Rose folded her arms over her chest. “You’re refusing, aren’t you? There’s no way I’ll ever see another bottle of that beer.”
“You don’t want to see it again,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “Sometimes I don’t want to. But I have to keep trying. I keep hoping the next town will be different, and it never is.”
Rose tried to understand what he was saying. It was all so absurd. “It’s beer, Daniel!”
Daniel turned away, slightly. “It is for some,” he said. “For others…it’s something else.”
“You’re leaving too, aren’t you?” Rose said.
Daniel stared at the floor for a long minute before nodding.
“Time for you to go sell beer to the next lonely woman who owns a bar that you meet?”
“You were never going to stay at all, were you? You were always leaving. You couldn’t stay for me.”
Daniel stared miserably at his shoes, and for a time Rose thought he might actually disappear before her eyes.
“That is the way it is,” Daniel said. “I can never stay, no matter how much I might want to. Every town I come to, I hope it’s the one where I can stay. But it never is. I wanted Corley's Crossing to be the town where I could finally stop moving on, but it isn't. I get so close...but then I make things happen, and the darkness comes. And now I have to leave.”
Feeling a chill that wasn’t really there, Rose hugged her arms to her chest. “You want to stay?”
He stepped forward and took her in his arms. “Yes,” he said.
“Am I the first you’ve wanted to stay for?”
She felt him sigh. “Does that really matter?”
“Not really,” she said, letting him hold her. “Tomorrow?”
He nodded. “I’ve learned to tell.”
She looked up at him. “Where will you go?”
He returned her gaze with those green, green eyes. Then he shook his head, and she looked down so he wouldn’t see her tears. “May I come upstairs with you one last time?”
Rose didn’t say anything, nor did she even nod. She took his hand and led him upstairs. There was no passion in it, only sadness.
Rose had been through enough last nights to know how this one would be. She would awaken in the morning, earlier than usual, disturbed by the absence of the warmth beside her that she had grown used to. She would rise, and he would be gone, and she would be alone. That was the way it always went, and it went that way on this night too. Rose awoke to hear the sound of Daniel’s truck starting and driving away. She sat up, and despite the cold she moved to the window to see the truck turning around the corner and heading off toward the Tassanaqua. She was about to turn away from the window when she heard another sound, all wrong for the early morning. It took a few seconds before she realized what the sound was – a shot from a rifle – and by that time Daniel’s truck had veered sharply, rolled up onto the curb, and crashed into one of the trees that ringed the park. It was only then that Rose realized how cold the morning was.
She didn’t remember getting dressed, or leaving the bedroom, or leaving the Lambert. She didn’t remember running down the street, or anything else, except standing over the door of the truck as she looked down on Daniel as the blood ran out of the wound just below his ear. She stood there for just a moment before the strength left her legs and she fainted.
It was Isaac, and his was the face she saw when she opened her eyes. “He’s dead,” she said.
She was back in her bed, and she still had her clothes on. The right leg of her overalls was dirty from where she’d slumped onto the ground. Doc Pullman’s satchel was on the bureau, and a new copy of the Bible on the bed beside her pillow.
“Reverend Holton was here,” Isaac said. “He wanted me to tell you that he’ll pray for you at the services. It’s Sunday, you know.”
“Is he going to pray for Daniel?”
Isaac didn’t need to answer that. Rose already knew the answer.
“Does anyone know what happened and why?” she asked.
Isaac frowned as he nodded. “Ethan Gentry,” he said.
“Ethan?” Rose sat up and sipped from the glass of water Isaac handed her. Cold and clear, it reminded her of Old Prospero’s. She tried to remember the last time she’d seen Ethan. He’d been in the Co-op, and she’d seen him in the crowd at the sidewalk revivals. But Ethan had never done anything rash in his life. Hell, he’d never done anything, period. Ethan?
“Seems he was taken by the spirit at the last few revivals,” Isaac said. “He’s been gettin’ holy, or whatever you call it. Anyway, last night he was babblin’ somethin’ fierce about sin and the den of iniquity and God’s will and Christian soldiers and all that. Nobody paid him any mind. I guess they shoulda’.”
“Ethan Gentry’s not a man anyone pays any mind,” Rose said.
“Yeah, well, Sheriff’s got him locked up.” He paused, and then said, softer: “I can get Daniel in Marlett Hill Cemetery, if you want.”
“That would be nice.” Marlett Hill was where the folks at Junctiontown buried their dead. The Corley’s Crossing Town Cemetery was for proper folk, not a traveling beer salesman. And Rose certainly wouldn’t want him buried beside Enoch Spencer and Abraham York.
Aside from Rose, old Mordecai Franks was the only one from the town to show up at Daniel’s funeral. Then, four days later, old Mordecai himself died. Heart attack, fastest damn thing.
Later, Rose poured out what was left of the Old Prospero’s. It wouldn’t be right to sell it. And as expected, the Lambert went back to the way it had been before. No singing, no laughter, no warmth and pleasure of company. Just drinking miners, nursing their crappy local beer and warm whiskey. Rose took the corner stool away, so nobody could ever sit in Mordecai’s spot. The sidewalk revivals came to a stop, even though men still drank and cheated on their wives – but not with Rose, who was done with all of those dirty bastards – and did so even more now that the mine was shutting down. So men still got drunk and now they fought again, and things were worse than before, really. Rose wondered just what victory Reverend Holton supposed he’d won.
The mine closed the first week of November. Some of the miners – half of them, maybe – were brought on at the mine in Central City, but the rest were not. Some of those found work doing other things, and the rest either moved or stayed in Corley’s Crossing and became even poorer. That’s how it went for the first year, and the second, and the third, as well. Some businesses closed, houses became empty and started looking run-down and shabby. The Lambert catered to fewer and fewer men, but those who came did so religiously, because they had nothing other to do than drink. As for Ethan Gentry, he was sent away to prison where rumor had it he died after just a day or two when he angered some of the fellow inmates with his mouth.
One summer day, five or six years later, Rose walked down to the Tassanaqua. It was the first time she’d been down there since the day with Daniel. She sat on one of the rocks for an hour or two, dipping her feet in the water and remembering a brief time when things had been lovely and better than they were now. She gazed down into the eddying pool in which she dangled her toes, and something there caught her eye. At the bottom of this particular pool was a bottle, and Rose knew that bottle at first glance even five years after she’d last seen one. She reached into the pool and pulled the bottle out. It was a bottle of Old Prospero’s. Someone had thrown it here, way back then...
...but it was still capped, and it was still full.
Rose’s heart quickened. Had this bottle really been here, in this pool, for five years? How could it survive the winter freezes? How could the Tassanaqua’s currents, swift all year but especially powerful in spring, not have pushed it away? And shouldn’t it have been floating?
All the memories returned as she gazed at the bottle in her hand. She remembered Daniel’s green eyes, and the nights in the Lambert filled with music and laughter. She remembered Mordecai smiling for the only time in all the year’s she’d known him. She remembered Daniel’s hands, caressing her and moving through her hair and under the bib of her overalls. She remembered his green, green eyes. And as she remembered all that, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the bottle opener on her key-ring. The cap came off with that wonderful sighing sound, and she sipped the beer without hesitation. It was still fresh and sweet and warm and spicy and full and cold, as she knew it would be. The warmth, that beautiful old warmth long since smothered, spread through her as if it had never left. Rose sat there, beside the Tassanaqua, drinking the single bottle of Old Prospero’s and watching the waters flow by, on their way around this bend and toward the next and on to wherever they went.
She drank the last drops and tossed the bottle into the river, watching it bob along with the current until it was out of sight. Then she went back to the Lambert, where she packed a couple changes of clothes into a bag along with all of her money from the cigar box. She didn’t need anything else, really. She went out back, to where Isaac was sleeping in his hammock. The big, kind man was older, fatter, and grayer at the temples, but he’d do all right by her father’s bar. She put the keys in the hammock next to him, where he’d find them, and then she walked out front and out onto the street. It was three o’clock, so she could walk to the depot and hop on the five o’clock train. They’d let her sleep in a boxcar, or if they didn’t she’d walk. It was a good time of year.
She was walking past the Co-op when Edna and Mabel came out. Alice had moved the year before.
“Going somewhere, Miss Barnstone?” Edna asked, her voice still dripping with all the contempt she could muster even after these years.
“Yes,” Rose said, smiling. “Edna, let your children leave Corley’s Crossing, or they’ll become you when they grow up.” And then she walked on, smiling as she went even though tears rolled down her cheeks. Smiling even though, in her gladness, she wept.
In a diner in New Mexico, a man orders pancakes, and when they are served he pours syrup over them from the bottle he’s brought in himself.
“What’s that?” asks the diner’s owner, a careworn woman in her fifties. The windows rattle as one of those new Air Force jets zips overhead.
“Syrup,” says the man. “A special blend that I sell.”
The diner’s front door bangs on its hinges; four men enter. More are pulling up outside. The breakfast rush.
“Syrup?” the woman asks as she looks at the brown glass bottle. “What’s it called?”
The man smiles at her over his short stack, and his green eyes twinkle.
“Old Prospero’s,” he says.