The October People, Chapter One: The Call
DREAM JOURNAL October 1973
"It’s night. I’m standing alone on a flat, desolate landscape. Suddenly, I see a tremendous Tidal Wave on the horizon roaring toward me. The top of the wave curled and gleamed whitely in the moonlight. It was sweeping cars, trains, houses, everything, with it. I looked quickly around and realized there was no escape for me. Adrenalin rushed through me. I turned to face it, bracing myself for death as the wave soared over my head.
But nothing happened. Amazed, I looked around. The solid wall of water surged around and above me. It was as if I was in an invisible, impregnable tunnel of some kind. I sensed suddenly there was someone behind me. I whirled around. Dede1 was standing there, calmly looking at me. He seemed to be lit up by a gentle glow, and his eyes gleamed with benevolence, knowledge, and strength. His white hair and clothes were ruffled by a steady breeze that I didn’t feel.
“Hold on, Frankie.” he said quietly and knowingly. “Hold on.”
That was all he said. The wave passed me by, leaving me unhurt and amazed."
NOTE: I happened to relate this dream to a few people, my father being among them. His reaction to hearing it mystified me. Instantly, he became violently agitated. I thought his hair was going to stand right up on end. In a panic, he vehemently accused me of having made it all up, which both amused and irritated me.
1 “Deˆde” means “Grandpa” in Czech, and is pronounced: “Je-da”. He was my father’s father and had died a year earlier.
DREAM JOURNAL OCTOBER 1989
"I heard a powerful pounding noise that boomed through a room over and over and over. Blood appeared at the top of the wall right where it joined the ceiling and ran down to the floor.
“The blood MUST be paid!” I heard a voice demand. Or did it say: “The blood MUST be cleaned!”?
I suddenly found myself looking out the eyes of a woman and saw that the bloodstained wall and floor were in my Grandma Alter’s house. I took out window cleaner, and started to clean up the stains."
“Frank…Dis is Jacob…My wife’s dead…She hadda heart attack …Ann’s dead! I’ll tawk ta ya lata.”
The answering machine clicked off. I stared at it as it busily reset itself mindlessly, whirring and clicking.
I had gotten up to use the bathroom and as usual I had made a security round of the house before going back up to bed. That was when I saw the blinking message indicator on the machine in the studio office. There hadn’t been any ringing because I always unplugged the phone on Friday nights.
“Christ …What time is it? 1:40 a.m…When did he call? Ann…Ann? …So loud, so full of life? How old was she?...Three years younger than Jacob.. So that makes her seven years younger than me; forty five, she was forty five….So young…My God; the kids, how are her kids? Did they know yet? Okay, who do I call? When? Where are the kids? How about the parents, do they know yet?”
I stood there silently for a few minutes till I sorted out what I was going to do, then quietly went back upstairs to our bedroom and shut off the alarm. There wasn’t any need for that anymore. No way I was going to be able to sleep now. I had been intending to get up at three anyway. I gazed at my wife peacefully sleeping.
“God, Jake must be heartbroken; I know I’d be if anything happened to Melissa. No sense waking her, let her sleep. We can’t do anything about it until later in the morning anyway.”
After so many struggles over the years we were finally enjoying a quiet, idyllic life. We only needed to set an alarm on Friday nights. At dawn on Saturdays we brought our goods down to the Farmers’ Market in town. We had an Organic fruit and vegetable farm in the hills overlooking the HudsonValley in upstate New York. We were usually spontaneously up by five, but on Saturday mornings I needed a few extra hours to package and load up all the products. We had a good niche selling high-quality, heirloom gourmet varieties of organic produce, as well as raw honey, organic poultry and eggs. We made our entire modest income for the year between May and November. The peak earning period was only 12 weeks long, and we were in that peak right now.
After a cup of coffee, I went out to the barn to get ready for market. The predawn air was crisp and the sky was clear on that September morning in 2004. Orion had cleared the eastern hills under a silver sickle moon. By five-thirty I had finished and went in for breakfast. There was another message on the machine.
“Hi Frank, dis is Dad. I don know how else ta say dis: Jacob’s wife Ann died last night of a heart attack…”
Now that I knew they were awake down there and it was safe for me to call without being intrusive I could call him back to find out what was being done and, most importantly how Jake and his kids were doing. He told me everyone was okay, just stunned, and that no plans had been made yet. I told him I’d call back again just as soon as I got home from the market.
There was never a moment of doubt or hesitation: I was heading down south to Long Island soon. Jake was my brother. Our parents had four children. In both age and size order there was myself, Jacob, George, and Kathy. My mother had vociferously maintained that she and my father loved all their children equally. We never had any sibling rivalry; we were all family, all equal.
I called George next. He was tall, nearly six foot, and lean. His leanness was not that of athleticism but rather that of one who ate little, but smoked and drank much. With his dusky skin, angrily glinting dark eyes, and unruly brindle hair he gave the impression of having been long-smoked over a low fire and having begun to smolder. He didn’t have much to add to what my father had already told me, despite having been up all night “runnin around wit Jake” as he put it in his thick Long Island accent. His tone puzzled me, he didn’t sound upset or subdued. Instead there was an excitement and cockiness to his voice that was jarring.
The first rosy light of dawn was just beginning to bathe the wooded hills as I drove down to market. His voice stayed in my mind. I was aware he felt wounded because he claimed our parents paid no attention to him as he was growing up. And he maintained they still ignored him. I had to admit there was probably something to what he said, but he was misinterpreting. It was really because our parents were just too busy when we were kids, and of course there was never any money for us to be able do things like other kids. I had taken it upon myself to be a kind of surrogate father to him, and taught him to ride a bike, to fight, and what I knew about girls.
“So is he right? Do they still ignore him?” I hated to admit it, but it always made me wince to see how the parents would dismiss with a shrug anything that was happening to him with a bored “Oh, George…is George” Damn it. I wish they wouldn’t do that. It did give the impression that they didn’t care about him, and I knew that wasn’t true because they loved us all equal.
The market was a blur. I tried to concentrate on being attentive to my customers but I kept drifting off, remembering Ann and thinking of her family. It was a good solid day of sales, for which I was grateful, yet it didn’t seem to matter much. I just wanted to get out of there. As soon as I got home I called my father and got the plans for Ann’s funeral. They weren’t going to wake her till Monday. I told him we’d be down tomorrow then, on Sunday. That unexpected delay in the wake gave us some badly needed time to lessen the disruption of being away a couple of days.
I called my kids next. ‘Kids’. They’re not ‘Kids’ . My son, Jackson, was 30. He worked for a software development firm in Newport. Erica, my daughter, was 27. She was an elementary school teacher in Providence. I told them of Ann’s death and our plans and suggested that if they wanted to go we could all meet there on the Island. I left it entirely up to them. They weren’t close to my side of the family, even before the divorce. They viewed my mother as foolish or nuts, and irritatingly persistent. For years now they’d refused to see my parents except for briefly once a year. And my siblings had ignored my kids as they were growing up. Neither of them got birthday cards, gifts or calls and even at Christmas they were treated as if nonexistent. I wasn’t happy about it but just chalked it up to the distance separating us all.
Next step: We needed a place to stay while we were down there. I assumed Kathy and her family would be coming up from Virginia at some point, and they’d probably want to stay at our parents’ place. That wouldn’t leave room for us. I never considered imposing on Jacob at such a time. I knew he’d want to be alone. So I called George, figuring that he might be able to put us up for a day and a night. He rented half a house in Lindenhurst and his two teen-aged children were only with him half the week. Out of all my siblings I had come to feel most comfortable with him, and he and his family had often stayed with us.
“Nah, Sorrry Frrrank. I ain’t gonna be dere.” He told me blithely. “I’m gonna stay at Jake’s fa a few days, till did is all ova..”
“You’re gonna stay at Jake’s?”
“Yeah. Until da funeral’s ova. It’ll be a lot better than drivin from here alla way out dere an back.” Jacob lived in Shirley, out on the east end of the Island. “Dis way dere’ll be no drivin around. I intend ta do some serious drinkin.”
He made his living as a carpenter and had had his own business since soon after high school. He told me if he got just one more DWI, his license was gone. And no license meant no business. As we talked a part of me stayed with his comment. Was he looking forward to the funeral as the perfect setting to be able to drink for several days with no concern over where the booze was coming from, no responsibilities, and no need to drive anywhere? Was that why he was sounding so chipper? I dismissed the thought, feeling guilty over impugning him.
But he did drink hard. I’m not sure when it began. I remember hearing that even when he was a newly-wed his then-wife was on him about his drinking. That marriage had ended in a bitter divorce, or rather a ‘half-divorce’. They had joint custody of the kids and as a result they were always in contact with each other, which meant they were always at each other’s throats. He hated her so much he had “FYSB” tattooed on his shoulder; it stood for “F*ck you Sheila, B*tch”.
“What’s the matter?” Melissa asked me. “That’s a funny look.”
After George had turned me down, I decided to at least try my folks and see who was staying there before I called a motel. I had just gotten off the phone with my father. “I’m not sure…I just asked if they might have room for us at their house. It’s weird.”
“What’s weird? What did he say?”
“He acted like he was pissed I asked. I mean, he said we could, no one else was, I asked. Kathy’s going to stay at Jake’s too. Which is weird. But he sounded pissed; like he didn’t want us there…I don’t know. I hope I didn’t say anything wrong.” I shrugged. “But what the hell could I have said? Ah, it was probably nothing. Anyway, we can stay there. And I got the directions to the Funeral Home and Jake’s house.”
Yes; I needed directions to my own brother’s house, as I know he would need them to get to my house. Every year I invited him and his family up to visit, but only twice in 20 years was it accepted. They had moved into their new house in 2001. A real ‘McMansion’ I was told. How he got the money for that I had no idea. Anyway, I never was invited to visit. I had somehow refused to see that the relations between me and the rest of the family had become more and more strained over the years. What was behind it I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. My mind slid away from saying it to myself. We were family; there couldn’t be problems between us.
“Blood is thickerin water…Money ain’t everyting: Family is everything…Money don’t matta: Family mattas.” my mother had incessantly repeated. So when I married the first time all my siblings were front and center. Jacob was my Best Man, George was an Usher and Kathy was our Flower Girl.
I was taken by surprise when Jake got married. I had met Ann a few times, and had heard they were engaged. But the first I knew he was actually getting married was when I got a call from him about a week before the wedding. He told me that due to a “slip-up”, I hadn’t been sent an invitation. He was “just calling” in case I wanted to attend. On such short notice it was impossible to get the time off from the mill where I worked. I buried my indignation, said nothing, and literally put it out of my mind. Funny thing was; none of the rest of my family had ever let on that Jake was getting married either. What was even weirder was that my mother has kept insisting ever since that I had been there at his wedding. No matter how many times I told her I wasn’t, she kept it up until I actually began to question myself to see if I was wrong. I wasn’t: I had not been there. Must be she saw a Doppelganger. Why else would she keep insisting that?
But all this was ancient history. I was sure that everything would without a doubt be laid aside in this time of grief. We took a deep breath and got to work. We had this one afternoon to put everything in to shape enough to last till we got back. We didn’t have any employees or any friends we’d trust with caretaking. We hated the idea of having employees; I’d never seen it turn out well. You wound up having to be the superior, which was demeaning to the other person and invariably led to resentment or toadying.
We weren’t kidding ourselves: We’d have to sacrifice two out of the three markets we did each week and that produce would not hold for the next week’s markets. There was going to be a lot more work now trying to catch up once we got back and we weren’t going to be able to make back that lost income. Still: It was family. All day and into the evening hours we worked furiously.
People who live insulated from Nature exist in an entirely different universe than those whose lives are intimately meshed with Her. Nature cannot be put on ‘Hold’, no matter the reason. Weeds sprout, choke out your crops and spill seeds to plague you for years to come. There’s no ‘Bambi’ or ‘Thumper’ out there; only intractable pests and varmints that will heartlessly pillage all your work and eat your produce and livestock without mercy or pause; unless you stop them. Livestock owns you: They have to be fed, watered and tended to every day. Plants need water when they need it; not when it’s convenient for you. Produce ripens on its own schedule, waiting for no one. If you’re not there in attendance when needed, playing your ceaseless role in the Dance: You lose...Period.
"I’m walking my country property at twilight. I come across a wooded section I didn’t know or forgot I owned. But as soon as I saw it, I knew it was mine. I was very confused: On the one hand I was glad to know I had more property than I remembered having, but at the same time I felt somehow guilty that I hadn’t come here sooner, that I hadn’t remembered it.
I walked the trail, exploring. Ahead of me I saw an earthen mound. As I got closer I realized it was a building of some kind and that sod covered part of the roof. I couldn’t tell whether it had been slowly sinking into the earth or had been gradually pushed up out of it. When I got to it I was shocked to realize that this was my chicken coop. I felt a tremendous, embarrassed guilt because I hadn’t taken care of what I was responsible for. I now felt compelled to do whatever I had to put things right.
I found the entrance; a low doorway. I almost had to crawl to get inside. Once in, it took some few moments for my eyes to become adjusted to the gloom. The place was foul and decrepit, falling apart from age and neglect. The walls were rotten and the floor was disgustingly filthy mud. As I looked around, I was horrified to behold a scene of nightmarish brutality. Everywhere there were piles of horribly mutilated dead and dying chicks. The ones not yet dead were writhing in mute agony from their gaping, lurid wounds, trampling the ones underneath them into the gore and muck…The chickens were monsters that killed, mutilated, and devoured their own young…
This dream has been repeating itself many times recently. Sometimes I have it several times a night. It’s always pretty much the same. Though once I heard a voice telling me: “These are your (thoughts?) (memories?). Don’t neglect them!”
Sunday morning we set about the final preparations. I got hold of my father at Jacob’s and told him when we figured on arriving and got another update. I went out and started going over the truck, checking her over, prepping her for the long trip.
“Frank! It’s Kathy!” Melissa called out to me from the house. “What’s wrong?” I thought, frowning. I wondered almost instantly why I thought something might be wrong. I rejected that thought quickly. There could be something wrong. I grabbed a rag to wipe my hands as I loped back to the house.
“Hi Frank…Kathy. Ya didn’t haveta run!” she laughed delightedly.
“I know. But I thought something might be wrong.”
“Nuttins wrong…Are ya comin down?” She spoke lightly, but her tone was cool, clipped.
“We’re leaving in about an hour. We’re just about ready…Why? Where are you?” Her question put me on the defensive immediately, which irritated me because I felt I was being prodded.
“I’m at Jake’s. I jest flew in. When are ya comin? Mommy wants ta know.”
“I just got off the phone with Pop. I already told him.” I fought to keep exasperation out of my voice. “Like I said: We’re leaving in about an hour, it takes about six hours, barring accidents, so we should be there around four.”
“Melissa said she’s comin too? It’ll be nnniiiccce ta see er again.” she purred maliciously.
I stood there for a moment after I hung up, looking down at the phone. I fought down a growing unease. I had the distinct impression she was not talking to me but for an audience.
“So…How’d that go?” Melissa asked me quietly when she came into the room. I told her. She nodded. “I think we’re in for it. Want to hear how my conversation with her went?”
I assented and she related it verbatim.
“Dis is Kathy. I’m at Jake’s…Where’s Frank? Is he comin? Ooooh, are you comin? When? It’s soooo good ta hear from ya, Melisssssa, been such a long time! It’ll be ssooooo good ta see ya!”.
“Yes but under such unfortunate circumstances. How’s Jacob? How are the kids?”
“Ya should see em. De’re such a strong little family…De’re okay. De’re doin okay. Da kids friends are here wit em. De’re such a strong little family. De’re so strong it’s unbelievable…Where’s Frank? Lemme tawk ta im.”
“She probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded.” I ventured, despite the fact that it was apparent that Kathy was honing her claws in anticipation.
“No. I know that tone.” she shook her head, her blonde hair softly swaying. “Any woman would.”
“Well…I’m sure that they’ve got enough to think of. They’re not even going to notice us. I mean…Ann’s dead for Chrissakes.”
“I hope you’re right…But don’t bet on it.”