The river rushed on. Seasons flowed, unchanged in their intensity; sheep bleeting as they always had, unchained by the conflicts sprouting all around. This was the cultural heritage which spurred Sonnyjo, kept him sane in the confusions of endless conversationos, distorting political manoeuvers. Above all he had the simplicity of his family, the yearly growing ease of a relationship with his wife, the untangled affection of a daughter blossoming from a child into tottering adulthood. The change was vaguely rightening. Sonnyjo didn’t like holding her on his knees any longer, as if an inward instinct of quilt, fear of misplacing a hand on this strange young body. Such confused emotions were brief, wwiped away smoothly by Dovric herself and her natural liveliness. She would grasp his hand to lead him out to examine new pups, in to his dinner, after church, rustle his hair, tease his untamed stubble, slap him as he stained a new shirt. In her arms, the lap of her hazel eyes, he became the child he had never been: it wasn’t that Sonnyjo had never grown up as many still claimed, but that he’d always been there at that awkward, inadequate level of responsibility without the benefit of the steps of experience. Dovri’s affections finally lent his character, that hulking frame, a tone of relaxation, freedom from the numbness os social fear, in the privacy of their home at least.
Outside the farm any such alternation in his character flew by like the river, unnoticed. He would always be Sonnyjo, as they all were, the statues of their images, years of gowing to prove ancient stereotypes justified. Sonnyjo would always be the quiet one who struck lucky with a good woman, a bit slow if no harm; Junior was forever doomed to be the drunkard’s son, a lazy grump with that unpradictable temper of that father; Sonnyjo’s Old Man was always a roaring laugh, remembered even fondly after the debacle of the peace assembly.
That was the day Dovric made her public appearance, walking boldly from Sonnyjo’s vision until she stood under the admiring gaze of the cluttered handfull present. Sonnyjo stared after her, an unidentified ache gnawing in his stomach as the father unacknowledgingly recognises a daughter, that this silent, most worshipping lover, would finally leave him for the firm knees of another.
It was the Pastor Friedman’s conception. Young, vibrantly optimistic in his reading of the scriptures, he saw it as his duty. A peace march. Bridge the river with more than steel. Unite across its banks as they were in life, if not beliefs. The concept had been floating in his dreams for months. After the massacre it appeared predestined.
Three years after Salvo’s death, many people’s principal surprise was that they were still sitting on an unexploded barrel of gunpowder. Fatur had quickly orchestred the fall of four governments in quick succession, then backed away quickly allowing the Southerners to govern alone. He had them over a spit. Let them hang thsemselves. Give them rope. Enough coalitions of faked achievement. They either let us rule or they don’t. Fiddling as a second partner will never achieve more than dubious legitimacy while they continue to steal the roofs from over our heads. Junior drummed home these explanations and acceptance of such logic quickly sparked across Northern lands until the flames agreed in admiration.
Left alone, all pretences removed, the generals assumed power with a sigh of dutyful glee. Papers disappeared. Political activists followed them. The borders of legality and heretical thought blurred as force dictated its own horizons.
With Vloric formally in opposition, his sly hand played cards from all sides of the table. Forever willing to “dialogue” he continually regretted “intransicience” and grieved at the general’s slowness to accept their defeat. “I can’t control certain groups of my supporters,” Fatur would lament while “I do, however, understand their impatience.” His standard replies as Southern crowds rioted in rampage at a stern new economic policy, after a protest at the increasing number of political prisoners. Factories closed, reopened, exploded under Fatur’s gloved direction. The law proved old Sonnyjo’s criticism of the written word: the squiggled words of the constitution were constantly reshaped as all sides claimed divine right. Only 150km South of Hillstown, four Northerners were burned in their hostal for no known reason but racial hate. In the town itself, the next day, several southern shops had their windows broken. Marlene’s father stayed in bed for three days with a fever, the fright of long planned calculations shattering under the brutal fist of some ruffians their minds exploding with propaganda and business destroying hate.
Isolated cases of unrest grew to become footnotes after the news headlines. “Another outburst.” Then the massacre in the capital gave them a new vengeance.
The killings suprised no one, yet the scenes of fifty-two charred bodies and the final image of that child’s twenty four hour agonizing fight for survival, shocked even the timid. Rumours abounded as to the purpose, conspiracy theories, motivations as each side accused the other of provocation. Fifty twoNortherners, including eight children under the age of six died in the blaze. That appeared to be the only undeniable statistic. That, and the panic of reprisals, pushed Paster Friedman into action.
Pastor Friedman was comparitively new to the town. Eight or nine year’s people calculated. Relatively new, a green hand in comparison to the Southern Canon Hopsman who had baptised their grandfathers. Their differance in years was reflected in their ambitions, the still glowing ember of vocational evangelicism fading to the tallow fingers of tobaco stanied rritual. Pastor Friedman was insisting on the need for a march, a meeting to at least discuss it. “Another,” groaned Canon Hopsman inwardly. Always meetings. “No objection,” he finally grumbled, to the dog at his feet. “No objection at all.” He shuffled in his chair to indicate an end. “Yes, yes, of course” he grumbled quickly as Pastor Friedman rambled on about bridges, maintenance of relations, the importance of community.
Why meet about it he wondered. And over coffee presumaly, instead of the civilising blend of his newly obtained wine. Nothing ever solved with the bitterness of black coffee. His further adversion to these chats was the inevitability of predecision; he was only ever required to silver seal with the perspiration of his respectability, decisions already preordained. He hated meetings. Especially this one. No only was Canon Hopsman not convinced, his heart was developing slight palpatations at what it entailed. “I don’t know. I don’t know,” he mumbled slipping past Pastor Friedman’s empty coffee mug and reaching behind the chair for the wine. This was too serious for protocol. He needed some wine. To his astonishment Pastor Friedman accepted a glass which briefly broke the tension.
“We have to do something before its too late.”
“What can we do. This is all very complicated.” The wine glazed the glass with a sheen of warmth and welcoming comfort. “It’s a bit ...”
“Well, what do you suggest?”
Canon Hopsman watched the nervous little man opposite sip his wine and wondered why he was wasting such a good year on such pale and thin lips. Wouldn’t taste their mother’s milk. he clasped his hands to wring attention to his eyes. Carefull! Pay attention. He wanted to be left alone. All this reasoning. Of course they were right. They all were. But what could anyone do at this stage.
Having received no answer, no acknoledgement of a question having been perceived, Pastor Friedman was forced to continued down his own lonely road. “All I, personally, can think of is a peace march. But even that could be risky. We need a meeting first. Open to everyone. Let’s hear what people think, and it would give us a chance to encourage them in a spirit of cooperativeness. From our own respective churches first we could mention the meeting, and then together.”
Silverseal. That’s all he wants me for. Should I agree to everything now and enjoy my wine in peace. But he held back, lost in the thoughts of his ancient armchair. For once, he reserved the freedom of his instant agreement. He was from the Northern hills himself and all this talk of mixing, cohabiting, wasn’t completely convincing. It’s very easy argue from the comfort of never having been ashamed of your origins, was Canon Hopsman’s lucid conclusion. So easy be young and idealistic, when you don’t know what its like to be old and have suffered. A meeting was one thing. The alternation of centuries work, another unholy, newfangled get together, dreamed up by city bred children like this one opposite, a peace march smelt of the romantic christmas decorations of American films. From the incubator of protective modernity these citykids had no idea what towns were really like.
And opposite, as if reading his thoughts, Pastor Friedman was lamenting the timewarp these old men suffered, the obstacles they placed before the future. Cities were engrained with more than grime; there were more windows to be broken and more willing to attempt it where humanity clumped togther forcibly on each others doorstep, where no one’s dirty washing was safe. Lost in the tangles of their isolated traditions, these country people would form the backbone of coming reprisals. Surely, as holymen, responsible for the good of their communities, it was their responsibility to at least attempt a joining. He made a further attempt. “Years of living peacefully together. It should be a model.”
“Well now. Don’t forget the war.”
Pastor Friedman slurped more wine. He wasn’t used to more than a couple of sips. “War is war,” he attempted to argue “and in comparison to what could happen over the next few months the war was a haven of respect.”
Canon Hopsman grumbled disbelief.
“We were dragged into other people’s war back then and I know it wasn’t pleasant, but there is no point in starting our own, is there?”
Refilling only his own glass, Canon Hopsman didn’t look to see if his comrade noticed the snub. With the courage of a further round Canon Hopsmanfinally decided to accept defeat and minimalize the victory. “Right. You’re right. But can’t rush these things. A meeting to discuss the proposed march as you’ve said,” Canon Hopsmanreasoned to the younger man’s relief. Then illusions fell shattered. “But there’ll have to be two. One over here and you hold your own. Take it step by step. We can get reactions better that way, and then decide what to do next. He slammed down the empty glass decidedly, like a judge, beads of nervous sweat trembling with the motion.
That wasn’t what Pastor Friedman intended. He saw the meetings as the launching pad for united indignation, not the base for seperatist retribution. But, with no remaining wine and a snore developing opposite, he knew he had little choice but to pray it was a step forward.
Neither meeting recoiled in horror at the daily disturbances. Even Pastor Friedman’s righteous condemnation of hotheaded provacation couldn’t stir more than a stuttering small crowd into more than polite coughs. A sense of destiny smothered the illusion of hope. Out of respect Pastor Friedman received faint mumbles of conditional support. Out of respect Canon Hopsman offered a few more.
Across the river, sweating more generously then ever, Canon Hopsman couldn’t stir himself into animated reason. Quickly he stepped backwards as the concept rolled off the church pulpit and onto the floor. A respectful silence before voices rose in wailing discord.
“March for what? To beg forgiveness? Didn’t they do that here in church?” Down by the river, wine to hand, Sonnyjo’s Old Man finally attempted to draw a laugh, shakily broke the tension until spattered voices vaguely agreed that there was no harm in it. “Show the ruffians we’re not all like that,” someone mouthed, then quickly withdrew as she was stared at from all around.
“The ruffians are the people you want to march with,” she was sternly told. “You should be glad to have people out there ready to defend us.”
Tensions were too high, blood too cold in fear, to discuss the issue further. People had learned to keep their opinions close to their shaking hearts. From the shadows Marlene crept out the door before anyone noticed her leave: she wasn’t alone, mixed families were being cruelly tested, the tugging could only grow fiercer, peace march or not. She raced home a halting fear choking the need to sob.
Without a chairman the meeting melted into the anarchy of personal instinct. Let your consciousness decide was Canon Hopsman’s final prayer. No one was listening. Neither had he attempted too hard to make himself heard.
“I’ll come along later,” Sonnyjo’s Old Man promised the Saturday of the march. “Clean myself up a bit seeing that you’re all in your Sunday best.”
“Do,” provoked Sinead. “Not every day you get a chance to be out socializing!”
They laughed quietly, welcoming the opportunity of releasing tension.
He would come. Sinead knew him well enough and trusted his sense of justice. She also knew that he’d been hurt at the meeting when they hadn’t listened and had only laughed out of pity. He was getting old and it wasn’t fair to force him into ridicule at his age. She herself didn’t care. She’d bring her family into town no harm in it, maybe even some good. That seemed to be a general opinion among the women in town anyway. She had never believed in Junior’s prophecies and it was time to show him. Anything for a quite life, she argued to Sonnyjo, no point letting them come in here and split us apart. Keep this village out of all that politics at least. No good for us or the farm, she pointed out and immediately won Sonnyjo ’s support at the mention of his land in danger. His support had never of course been in doubt: he’d follow her to the ends of the river if necessary, and Dovric even further.
“Go on!” Sinead pushed her.
“Go on out of that. Who better than a right pretty girl like you!”
Pastor Friedman grabbed her hand and dragged her after him until he found another, the two young symbols of beauty he was lookinig ofr. Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, the droning pronunciations of wavering good will floating by Eastwards with the wind, billowing shawls and loose jackets, puffs of nervous smoke, the coming and goings of the undecided, bloodshot eyes spotting who was or wasn’t there, calculating where their presence would do less harm, be less noticeable, Dovric and that other girl were pressed together on the lumbering stage shivering beneath the fragile material of their best dresses.
Through curiousity, genuine intentions or simply a desire for a Saturday away from normal drudgery, the crowd was bigger than initially expected, if not over flowing with enthusiasm. Bodies juggled each other along the river front, crossing the ancient bridege until, as planned by the Pastor, they met in the centre. As the wind rose into the threat of a thundery storm, the voices of reason faded across both banks and the assembled multitude slowly dispearsed to their own bank with the flow of the river.
Oblivious to inherent political affiliations, the threat of betJunioring boundaries, Sonnyjo noticed only one thing. His eyes never left Dovric as she shivered on the flimsy stage in the middle of the old stone bridge. In awe he watched, sadly, as he watched others watch his child. He wanted to take her back home and hide his family in the saffety of an isolated barn. This act of forced companionship meant little to Sonnyjo, not for political reasons, simply through a resististance to identifying with others. It wasn’t naural. And as, in his limited sense of occasion, he listened to the voices around he could only see his instinct verified.
Watching his daughter shiver Sonnyjo scarcely noticed the parade of shakey officialdom. From the riquedidly podium midstream the crowd watched the wind snatch Pasor Friedman’s scarf from his shoulders and ignored his comments. Beside him, hands clutching the burgandy cloth of hiw own uniform, Canon Hopsmansweated despite the rough breeze.
Official religious blessings over, the devout were freed to retreat to the background and control the flapping waving of their ritual cloaks. Pastor Friedman flipped in anger as Canon Hopsmantwisted in embarrassment: the official political speeches made the whole show a farcial parade. Pastor Friedman spoke for too long, Canon Hopsmanwsweated too much and eventually lost the threat of his humble thorughts. Members of the local council swore alligiance to peace while covering their backs under a list of endless conditions and ignoring the large list of the officially absent, including the local governor himself.
Snorts and coughs, a fleeting song lost in the haze. Gradually the crowd dispearsed with no foccus to cheer. Sonnyjo, however, remained steady. Oblivious to the subtlies of events all around he was watching his daughter tremble on the official stage. Protectively, like the egle hovering to claw away the lost sheep, he suddently wanted to snatch her form the misty spotlight and hide her in the back sed with the goat. She was beautiful he had suddently realized. She’d grown up. thirteen, almost fourteen. Taller by the day. Slim. Curly red hair tangling the breeze, winning. Determined little girl. His little girl. He looked forward to walking her back home and hoped the ceremonies would soon cease.
Speeches loosing themselves on the breeze the crowd soon thinnned itself to a trickle of homeward bound entities. The onlookers were the first t dispearse as it became obvious that the scene was littl but that, a scene.
“Come on!” Sinead grabbed him. “She’ll be along later.”
Crestfallen, he watched Dovric skate off amid a knob of friends, gleefully unaware that they’d just been acting something far more serious than a game.
Crossing the square on their way out of town, silently chipping toes on cobblestones, they met Sonnyjo’s father. “Saw it from the river” he explained. “Any good?”
“So so” Sinead mumbled as he joined them.
“Don’t know. Don’t know at all. Bet you Junior wasn’t at it.”
A response would bave been lost on the growing breeze. They paused as they left the town and began the climb upwards for a final survey of the the crowd fluttering over the bridge. Beneath the blackened stone the wind was beginning to stir murky waters.
“Never the same since the factory came,” Sonnyjo’s Old Man mumbled in disguest at the darkened water.
“Factory’s gone now.” reminded Sonnyjo in an unexpected fluency of local events.
“It is, isn’t it? I suppose it’ll all clear itself out with time.”
Facing the wind, they walked on clothes ruffling, tangling their strolling limbs in a slow motion mimic of progress, the absurd dance of matchstick figures smoldering on a giant’s breath. Broaching the edge of the town the muffled plonk of a shot rang form somewhere overhead. “Wolves” muttered the old man wheezily. “Must be the wolves.”
Three months later the old man took to bed knowing he wouldn’t see the river again.
“Only a bad cold.” Sinead assured him. “Here drink this.”
He said nothing, remaining defiant to the last, not through false hope, rather in an attempt at keeping his family from prolonged grief; his good natured groans and complaints at being invalided were mingled with strained, wicked grins of conspiracy, the feeble row, what remained of his laugh as he too pretended it was only a bad cold.
Dovric received a special effort, beaten hands ruffling her hair as she sat for hours beside him listening to the stories he would no longer tell in public.
She was the last to see him alive as she took him the hot milk and what honey they could afford before bedtime. By morning he was cold, more frozen than the dawn. Dovric screamed. Sonnyjo came running, to turn as inert as his father until Sinead held him and told him it was the best way to go, and between tears she began the organization.
It was one of the biggest funerals the town had known for years. The elderly and the toddling, from both sides of the river, drinking companions, card buddies, bar owners, neighbors, a host of straggling relatives, Aunty Johanna leading the way, shopkeepers, even Pastor Friedman. Sonnyjo had never realized his father was such a hero, that the shadow he’d grown under stretched to cover more than the son. His father’s laugh, the medals Aunty Johanna threw after the coffin, the tears he envoked in his final parade, spoke of a living legend, another myth going to the grave.
In awe the town sagged across bridges, into the church where some had never been before, down the narrow lane at the side, past the original graveyard cluttered aimlessly behind the church walls, brushing aside raw briars, collars tugged tightly against the bitter wind, until frozen bodies clumped around a final resting place each hearing in their own way that famous laugh once more, a long cleaar defiance of humor ringing far louder, with deeper resonance, than Canon Hopsman’s last bumbling words, stuttered through the unforgiving air and a haze of perspiration.
“He’ll be missed.”
“A great loss.”
“Comes to us all.”
“He lasted well.”
“The best way to go.”
Words of consolation brushed Sonnyjo’s ear as his hand was grabbed and shook in echo.
“I know what it’s like!” YoungJed muttered clasping Sonnyjo’s hand firmly in rushed support.
Junior hung his hand meaningfully on Sonnyjo’s shoulder. “You were lucky,” was all he said. “A great man.”
Mr. Smith shook hands solmenly, leading a string of business men from either bank, bundled together unheadingly.
“Things will never be the same,” someone croked, then mumbled a soothing retraction under the poking of his wife. “I mean we’ll all miss him.”
The rain held off as the crowd thinned and the bars filled.
“What do you want to do?” Sinead asked. She pulled him closer and wiped her eyes on his shoulder as she brushed the back of his head with a comforting hand. “Go home?” Sonnyjo shrugged. “No come on! We have to go down for one. It’ll be expected.” Sonnyjo nodded gripping Dovric’s hand tighter. “Come on then.”
The bar was jammed, drinks flowing in long tradition: the only way to send a person off, drrink to remember happier times, to welcome him on the other side; drink and reminiss together in a community of support. For once Sinead didn’t have to worry about Junior or YoungJed or Marlene and where they were sitting, such differences would temporarily be washed away in respect for deeper grief.
Sinead gave him a hug before stepping into bed later that night. “Are you all right?”
The house yawned emptiness. Sonnyjo could hear the silence of an absence. His thoughts flew, memories spinning, colliding. Unused to such inner literacy Sonnyjo huddled up afraid.
Minutes or hours later Sinead could still feel him awake. Then she sensed the shoulders shake slightly, long rythymic movements of sorrow as sobs strangled her husband’s stoic strengths. She leaned over to hold him closer, fingers slipping over his damp face. She’d never seen him weep before. He never had. Not even with the stunned silence of his mother’s departure. But tonight he couldn’t stop himself. There was no brake left. It was as if, with the love of a wife and daughter to care for, he finally understood the fear of loss. His father was old but Sonnyjo was beginning to realize that the young too could be robbed and he doubted his heart would fill that vacuum. Out of fear Sonnyjo was shaking for those remaining as well as past.