Begin Reading the Summer of 1848

Chapter One

Detroit, Michigan Monday, May 15, 1848 Olivia Olivia woke early but remained under the summer quilt, luxuriating in idleness. Are there really that many idiots who would buy a Valentine? Sounds like such a dumb idea. But I can’t deny Michelle has more business sense than I do. Michelle couldn’t stop harping about the stupid cards. “They are all the rage in London. A fella don’t dare court a girl in the month of February if he ain’t fixin’ to give her one. And I swear it will be that way here soon enough, even in the wilds of Michigan.” She kept insisting they order large rolls of lacey paper now, in May. It could take months for the paper to arrive, she argued. Once it did, they’d have to work long hours, getting stacks of cards ready by February. She badgered Olivia to begin working on the designs – at least ten different ones – and wanted nothing to do with the commonly used poem: The rose is red, the violet’s blue, The honey’s sweet, and so are you. Thou art my love and I am thine; I drew thee to my Valentine: The lot was cast and then I drew, And Fortune said it shou’d be you Michelle expected Olivia to come up with at least three original versions of palaver similar to that rhyme, though more in the style of the common man. “When did I claim to be a poet?” Olivia asked. “You write books, don’t you?” “For children. And not a single couplet in them. The whole idea is ridiculous. If you tried, you couldn’t find two women less experienced in things romantic than you and I. Neither of us ever married, neither of us ever courted properly. And anyway, who would waste good money on a piece of card paper with a few lines of blather scribbled on it? What’s romantic about words some stranger was paid to write?” “I’ll tell you who – droves of men. Remember how you said you can’t imagine your brother Avis ever telling his Lady Mabel how much he loves her? You think he’s some special case? There are hardly any men who say that kind of stuff. They think long as they keep knocking at your door, that pretty much says it all. So we’ll make it easy for them – they buy a card, sign their name on it, and leave it on the table. Or now that they can put one of them stamps on a letter – so the lady what they’re sending it to don’t gotta pay to get it – they can send it through the post.” Olivia stretched, arms over her head, toes pointed. All right. She does have a point. It’s not hard to imagine Lady Mabel getting a fancy card and clutching it to her heaving bosom. All she’d have to do is drop a hint about the Sweet Valentine one of her friends received and Avis would be scrambling, desperate to find out where he could get one. A few pennies to keep in her good graces? That’s a bargain. “Anyway,” Michelle’s argument continued, “We ain’t gonna give ’em nothing that simple. Ain’t nobody writes a Valentine by hand anymore. They’re all printed, even embossed with gold. Besides the paper lace, we can decorate ’em with ribbons and bits of velvet and silk. Feathers and dried flowers. I’ve even heard of sea shells.” “How exactly do you think they’re going to send seashells through the post?” “The really special ones will come with their own special box.” Olivia could already hear Mabel bragging, showing it to all her friends at the Girls’ Club, leaving it displayed on the mantle until it all but disintegrated. Olivia even went so far as to wonder if it might enter the decidedly unromantic mind of Mr. Mourning Free to get one for her. Not in this life. The back door slammed as Janie Renfro entered the kitchen. Olivia welcomed the sounds of the pump handle and clanking pans – harbingers of breakfast. How lovely to lie abed while someone else did so much of the work. By the time Olivia dressed and entered the kitchen, the boarders had finished their breakfast and were lingering over coffee. Before anyone had the chance to wish her a good morning, six-year-old Charlie looked up from his hot chocolate and asked, “You know where my daddy be at?” Olivia smiled at her unacknowledged, chocolate-colored son. He seemed so grown-up, taller than the other boys his age, thin as a bean, with his father’s brilliant white smile. Nothing of me in him, she thought for the hundredth time. Not a speck. “Why no, I don’t,” she replied, as usual modulating the level of warmth she allowed to creep into her voice. “He must be tending to something out in the barn.” “Nope. He ain’t. I been out there.” Olivia tapped her finger against her upper lip, waiting for Charlie to wipe the mustache of milk from his before she spoke again. “Well, maybe he went to work early – remembered something he had to get done.” “He spose to take me into the Second Baptist.” “Church on a Monday? Whatever for?” “Could be I gonna be in the children choir.” “Oh, wouldn’t that be nice.” Mrs. Porter leaned toward the boy and smiled. She and Miss Streeter had been the first to take rooms when Olivia opened her boarding house. “I sang in my church’s choir. Back in Pittsburg,” Miss Streeter offered with a sad smile. “Course now that my hearing’s gone so bad . . .” “You’re a lucky girl, not having to hear yourself no more.” Mrs. Porter finished her sentence with a good-natured jibe. Olivia swallowed her annoyance with Mourning for neglecting to mention the choir to her. “Well, don’t worry. If your father doesn’t turn up in time, I’ll take you. I have to go into town anyway,” she lied . “You want I should fry you up some eggs?” Janie asked Olivia. “No, no. In this house, lazy loafers who miss mealtime fend for themselves. Rules hold for the landlady too. But I’d be glad to finish off that bacon.” She nodded at the plate in the center of the table. “If no one’s got their name on it.” “It’s close to burnt,” Janie apologized as she shoved it closer to Olivia, before turning to tromp out to the barn and get laundry day started. “I’ve no use for it any other way,” Olivia said to Janie’s back and rose to pour herself a cup of coffee. “I suppose Mr. Abraham is having a sleep-in?” She returned to the table and reached for the plate of bacon and a slice of bread. “Old goat is still breathing. I checked on that,” Mrs. Porter said as she and Miss Streeter simultaneously rose and put their plates in the sink. Charlie also pushed his chair back and Olivia said, “Why don’t you go see if Big Red is out in the barn?” The auburn-tinged mare Mourning rode to work every day had been named after the big old fleabag he used to ride back home in Pennsylvania. “She be right in her stall. Already checked ’bout that when I been out there.” “Well, go get yourself ready. I won’t be long.” After Charlie turned to clomp up the stairs, only Michelle remained at the table, head cocked, watching Olivia. “Where you think Mourning’s gone off to?” Michelle asked. “Dint he say nothin’ to you?” “No.” Olivia shrugged, trying to appear unconcerned. But something had begun fermenting in her belly. “He has been actin’ strange.” Michelle looked away as she spoke. “Ever since the fire.” Olivia’s eyes opened wide in surprise and flashed in anger. “I can’t imagine how you come by that opinion. In fact I can’t imagine how you come to hold any opinion about the way Mourning behaves, normal or strange. Why would he be acting any different? What do you want to be bringing that up for, anyway? It was so long ago. What’s it got to do with anything?” It required an effort to keep her voice low, so no one else would hear. “It warn’t so long ago. A month? Two at the most. Maybe you think nearly gettin’ us all burnt up in our beds ain’t nothing.” Michelle kept her voice soft when she looked back at her friend. “But it ain’t, Livvie. It ain’t nothing.” “Burnt up in our beds.” Olivia shook her head. “Flames never got anywhere near the house.” “They coulda.” “Lots of things could have happened. Let’s stick to real life.” “How’s this for real life? The barn was that close to going up.” Michelle held two fingers a tiny distance apart. “Well, it didn’t go up, did it? Thanks to the water tank and hose Jeremy put up in the loft.” Olivia referred to her former neighbor on the farm, the man who was currently Michelle’s some time companion and an aspiring plumber, determined to install the first working bathtub and water closet in Detroit. “That’s right. And thanks to you climbing up there to turn the spigot. But did you ever stop to think . . . a few more minutes . . . did you ever stop to think, Livvie? What if there’d been a package down there?” Michelle referred to the secret hiding place beneath the storeroom in the barn, a compartment for hiding runaway slaves, before they could be whisked over the river to Canada. “They woulda gone up in smoke, together with the whole caboodle.” “And you’d be blaming Mourning for that?” Olivia blanched. “And me, of course. For one darn kiss. And it wasn’t even much of a kiss.” “That ain’t what I’m saying. Ain’t nobody to blame but the villains what struck the match. But you know you got careless. Out there on the porch, where anyone on the road can see you. People going by on a boat could probably see you.” “I have to get ready to take Charlie.” Olivia abruptly stood. With her back to Michelle she said, “Anyway, I fail to see the point of this conversation.” When she pushed the door to her room open she saw it. Heard it actually, as the door whooshed over it. The long strip of paper, folded like an accordion, making a fan of pages. “Mexico” in thick black letters was on the first panel. Someone at the Arsenal had given it to Mourning, but what was it doing in her workroom/bedroom? She surveyed her worktable, the sofa, and the low table in front of the sofa. Perhaps it was lying on one of them and floated off onto the floor? No. Mourning had it the other day, when we were out in the barn arguing. He kept waving it in my face and I sure never took it from him. There is only one way that darn paper got in here after I went to bed last night Mourning shoved it under the door. Feeling numb, she glanced in the mirror and decided she was as ready as she was going to get. She took another cup of coffee out to the porch, the place Charlie would look for her when he was ready to go. She knew he would have the buggy ready. Just past six years old and he already helped his daddy take care of the animals, standing tiptoed on an overturned bucket to put the bit in a horse’s mouth. She cast a wistful glance at the empty chair standing next to hers. It was true; Mourning never joined her on the porch any more. Not since that evening before the fire. Sure enough, the buggy soon stood in the drive. “Come on, we gotta get goin’,” Charlie called. On the way to Detroit Charlie cast worried glances her way, but neither of them made further mention of Mourning’s disappearance. Charlie was set on getting her permission to keep a hutch of rabbits and learn how to keep bees, and chattered about the logistics of those endeavors. How long will it be, she wondered, before he realizes how unusual it is for a colored boy to speak so freely with a white woman, even dare to boss her around? She dropped him at the Black Second Baptist Church and drove to the Arsenal, where Mourning worked. She had only been there once before, to bring Mourning an urgent letter. Now she tried to think of a plausible excuse for a white woman to be seeking out a black man at his place of employment, but soon lost patience. Let them think what they want. She strode into the carpentry shop, saw he was not there, and asked one of the men where she might find Mourning Free. “Couldn’t say, ma’am. He quit.” “Quit? When?” “Couldn’t say. Worked till yesterday. Must a gave fair notice, cause the boss dint have no quarrel with him. Boss is over there.” He nodded at a hefty man, bent over to attach the legs to a chair. Olivia hesitated before asking, “What’s considered fair notice?” “Week, I guess.” She glanced at the boss, but knew there would be no point in questioning him. Mourning would hardly have confided his plans. She mumbled her thanks, hastened out of the workshop, and drove to the office of Mr. Carmichael, the attorney who had always been a good friend and confidante to both Olivia and Mourning. “Why, Olivia Killion, what a lovely surprise. I don’t see enough of you.” “Have you seen anything of Mourning Free lately?” she asked brusquely, ignoring the chair he pulled out for her. “No. Why? Is something wrong?” Crestfallen at his reply, she said, “He seems to be gone. Not a word to anyone, just disappeared. I thought maybe he left some kind of message with you.” “No, nothing like that.” He furrowed his brow. “My, what a worry. Do you fear something may have happened to him, an accident on the road perhaps?” “No. He went upstairs to his room as usual last night. And his horse is still in the barn.” “Does he like to take a walk in the morning? In the woods? Perhaps we should organize a search party. He could have fallen, broken his ankle –” She shook her head with a wry smile. “Getting up and deciding to take a walk is about the last thing I can imagine him doing. You know what his life was like back in Pennsylvania. He had to walk hours each day just to get to all his different jobs. Walking for its own sake is a ridiculous notion to him.” She paused and took a breath. “If he walked anywhere, it was away from me. I’m going over to the livery, see if he bought a horse.” She half-turned as if to leave, but didn’t. “What about . . . the little boy?” Mr. Carmichael walked behind his desk, again extending his arm toward the chair, in invitation for Olivia to sit. She did. “He didn’t take Charlie.” She shook her head. “I just dropped him off over to the Second Baptist for choir practice. When he woke up, his father’s bed was already empty. Charlie came downstairs wanting to know where his daddy was.” Her voice almost broke. “Well, I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. He would never abandon that child. And he’s so nicely settled in here –” “He quit his job. A week ago. He quit his job and not a word.” “I’m sure there’s some explanation.” “I think . . . I think maybe he’s gone off to Mexico.” “Mexico? What on earth would he be looking for down there? California, now that wouldn’t surprise me – what with all the rumors about gold starting to fly about.” She let out a long sigh. “He’s got himself half-convinced it’s some kind of paradise on earth. A place where they leave mixed couples in peace. Some new fellow at work, a soldier back from the war, was talking about how they have so many different kinds of people – Indians, half-Indians, Spaniards, Creoles, Negroes, mulattos, quadroons – and they have this whole area set aside, where the mixed couples live. He gave Mourning a pamphlet about Mexico, and I found it shoved under my bedroom door this morning. That’s the goodbye I got.” “Paradise, you said? I doubt that. They may have a special area, but I’d guess it’s where they banish all those mixed couples to. Keep them out of sight.” “That’s exactly what I told him! And if you’re so scared of slave-catchers, I said, why don’t we just go over the river to Canada?” “What did he say to that?” “Canada. Puh.” She imitated the way Mourning jerked his head back and let out a little puff of air when he thought a person had said something ridiculous. “All they got there is white folks. Blend in with the ice and snow.” She shook her head. “I told him there aren’t any laws against inter-racial marriage in Canada. He said, ‘Ain’t no need to outlaw somethin’ what don’t exist.’” “I can’t argue with that.” Mr. Carmichael leaned back in his chair. “Mrs. Carmichael and I traveled through Canada for a few weeks. I don’t recall seeing a single black face.” “Well, the damn fool will sure see plenty of black faces on his way down the Mississippi to New Orleans. All kinds of them – out in the fields of every plantation they pass.” The attorney’s eyebrows shot up. “Was he talking about doing that?” “Yes, he was. How he could get a job on a riverboat and just stay on it, never have to set foot in a slave state, make it all the way down to where he could catch a steamer across the gulf, to Mexico.” She gave a few quick, exasperated shakes of her head. “Ever since I’ve known him, even when he was a little boy, the damn fool was always going on about how a poor slave could get sold down the river, as if Louisiana is the closest thing there is to hell on earth. Damn, damn fool.” She rose to leave. “You’ll tell me what you find out?” Mr. Carmichael rose to walk her to the door. “Sure.” She shrugged, suddenly exhausted. Weary of feeling clueless and pathetic, she straightened her shoulders before entering the livery, determined to offer a credible performance. “Good day, Mr. Thompson. Mourning Free came in to buy a horse, didn’t he?” “Sure did. I fixed him up with a good one – and the whole kit and boodle – blanket, saddle, rigging, saddle packs. Rode out this morning. Didn’t say where he was off to.” “No, I don’t know myself. Something personal. My guess would be family. Well, a good day to you. I just wanted to be sure he got off all right.” “Yes, ma’am.” Mr. Thompson tugged on the brim of his cap. She returned to the buggy and aimlessly drove up and down streets. What am I going to tell Charlie when Mourning isn’t home by bedtime? Or tomorrow? Or the next day? She continued to curse Mourning. A person could think you were in some kind of prison you had to break out of. You could have gotten up and left any old time you pleased. But not like this. Why like this? Without a word, no clue as to when you’ll be back. If you’ll ever be back. How is that fair? How dare you leave me with nothing to tell our son? Sneak off into the night, like a slithering coward? Damn you, Mourning Free. Damn you to hell. I should take Charlie and go away, someplace you’ll never find us, see how that feels to you, when you do come back here, expecting to find us waiting on you. She turned up Beaubien Street and onto Croghan, where the church was. The only thing she could think to do was tell Charlie the truth. All of it. But he’s only six years old. How can he understand that? She thought of little Josiah Greenstreet, hiding in a pickle barrel on the back of a wagon, he and his parents fleeing from slave-catchers. That poor little boy was only four years old and he seemed to understand perfectly well what was happening and why he had to keep quiet in there. That’s what our broken world does to these children. Forces them to understand the evil in it. She breathed out another long sigh and climbed down to enter the church, where the choir was on the last verse of Abide With Me. The pastor was seated in one of the back pews and got to his feet when the door opened. “Good day to you, Pastor Newman,” she whispered and slipped into the pew across the aisle from him. “I’m here to collect Charlie.” It was not the first time she had been to the church, having attended some abolitionist events there and even gone to Sunday services with Laisha, when she was still living with them. But Olivia wasn’t sure the pastor recognized her. He didn’t succeed in hiding his puzzlement when he bent toward her to say, “They’re just finishing up,” before sitting back down. Charlie looked adorable in a threadbare white vestment, with gold and black trim forming a large V down his chest. But he frowned when he saw who had come to take him home. While the last chord was still reverberating through the chapel he came skipping down the aisle. He was smiling bravely, but without a hello asked, “Didn’t my daddy come home yet?” “No, not yet, I’m afraid.” “Oh. Okay. I gotta go hang up my robe.” “Go ahead. I’ll be right here.” When they were in the buggy she said, “It’s such a beautiful day. I wonder if the ice is still holding. You think they have ice cream over at The Shades?” “Yeah, yeah.” He perked up. “Not think. I know they got it.” “Well, climb in the back, see if that bag with the tin bowls is still there.” “Don’t need ’em.” Charlie shook his head. “Me and my daddy ’llowed to sit in The Shades. I been there with him plenty a times.” “Oh.” That was something else Mourning had never bothered to discuss with her. She’d had no idea Charlie knew there were places he wouldn’t be welcome to come in and sit to table. You could have spared him that knowledge for a few more years, she thought, feeling increasingly resentful. But she managed to keep her voice bright. “Well, all right. That settles it. Let’s go get us some ice cream.” Seated at the table, she said, “As long as we’re here, maybe we’d better have our dinner, before the ice cream. What do you think?” “Steak sandwich and fried potatoes?” he replied. “Is that what you and your daddy get?” “Yep.” “Is it any good?’ “De-licious.” “Okay, that’ll be it.” The waiter approached and greeted Charlie amiably. Olivia gave him their order and, after he left, looked into her son’s eyes. “I didn’t want to come here with you just to eat. I also wanted to be somewhere we can talk. I need to tell you some things. Grown-up things.” “Did my daddy go away like my mamma did?” he asked. It took Olivia a moment to remember that, to Charlie, Laisha had been his mamma. “No, no, not like that. Your daddy will come back. I’m sure of that. He would never leave you. He knew he could count on me to look after you while he’s gone. But he would never go away and not come back. I don’t know where he is, but I think he may be looking for a new place to live.” “Why? Are you gonna make us leave your house?” “No, never. I hope you will stay forever and ever.” “So why he gotta look for another place? I gonna be ’llowed to take my pony? You and Miss Michelle and Mr. Jeremy and Mrs. Porter and Miss Streeter and Mr. Abraham gonna come visit us?” With a heavy heart and not at all sure she was doing the right thing, Olivia began hesitantly. “I know you loved your mamma very much. And she loved you. And she’s your mamma because she raised you up in your first years. But sometimes a little boy can have two mammas – one who grew him in her tummy and one who raised him up –” Charlie looked over his shoulder before speaking in a whisper. “You mean like you growed me in your tummy?” Olivia’s jaw dropped. “Who told you that?” “My daddy.” “When?” He shrugged. “Dunno. Sometime. He said you be my other mamma, but I can’t never call you mamma and I can’t never tell no one. But I gotta know that you love me and you always gonna look out for me.” “Yes, that’s the truth.” Heart aching, she softly spoke the words that she wanted to shout while holding him close to her – not politely sitting across a table from him. “I love you with my whole heart and I will never let anything happen to you. And did your daddy tell you why it’s a secret?” “Cause the white men what call us niggers and coons think we need to keep ourselves ’bout five miles ’way from a white woman. If we don’t, they like to string us up. But I don’t know what that means.” “String you up?” She shuddered. I thought we were keeping him better sheltered – that he had seldom, maybe never, heard the word “nigger.” I am a stranger to this child. And Mourning? Do I know him at all? I can’t imagine him explaining the world to Charlie with such harsh directness. “It means to hurt you very badly.” “How?” “That’s something we’ll explain to you when you’re older.” “If it be so bad for a white woman to be near a black man, then why me and my daddy be livin’ in your house with four white ladies?” “It’s not bad. But too many people are stupid enough to believe it is. Because we look different.” She paused and struggled, finding no useful words to say. “Maybe someday things will change.” “How they gonna change?” “I don’t know, Charlie. Maybe simply living near one another will help people see that we’re not so different. You know, when people don’t like someone or something, it’s usually because they’re afraid of it. Like I hate snakes. Because I’m afraid of them. They make me go like this.” She shivered. “White folks who get all riled up about black folks . . . I think it’s on account of they’re afraid.” “’Fraid a what?” “I can’t say exactly. There isn’t any sense in it. Same as me with snakes. What’s a little old garden snake going to do to me? But I still scream every time I see one.” “So maybe you gotta be around ’em more.” Charlie grinned. “Maybe I best put some in your bed or somethin’.” She sat up straight and stared at him. How can he fool with me in the midst of such a ghastly conversation? Or perhaps how can he not? Is making fun the only alternative to despair? She attempted to return the favor and pretend to take his threat seriously. “Dear Lord, no. Don’t you dare think of doing that.” She bent over her plate to take a bite of her sandwich and took her time chewing it. Damn you, Mourning Free, why’d you have to tell him all those things? Charlie giggled. “Okay, I ain’t gonna. Cross my heart. Prob’ly wouldn’t stay put anyway, less’n I threw a pile a dirt in there with ’em.” He clearly enjoyed watching her shiver again. Exhausted, she took a drink of her ale and forced a smile. “You haven’t told me anything about the choir.” “Nothin’ to tell. You heard how good we be singin’. And you saw how short the vestment be on me, ’ccount a how tall I be.” “So that’s something you’re going to do? Go to practice twice a week and sing every Sunday?” “Yep. But you ain’t gotta drive me. I walked it plenty with my daddy.” “I don’t mind taking you – so as long as they’ve still got ice cream in Detroit.” “That why they’s some places me and my daddy gotta go ’round back to get our food? Cause they scared we gonna do somethin’ bad if we go in the front?” Her lips pursed, but she forced a weak smile. “They’re not scared of you in particular. It’s the idea of black and white folks mingling together that frightens them. Now you eat your food. It’s getting all cold.” He obeyed and soon the waiter brought their ice cream. Charlie quickly finished his and stared at her. “Where my daddy gone?” “I don’t know, Charlie. Honestly. He didn’t tell me he was going, much less where. If I find out anything, I promise to tell you.” “You mad at him?” “Oh, no.” She began shaking her head, but stopped. No more lies. There are a lot of things I don’t have to tell Charlie. That I shouldn’t tell him. But I don’t have to lie to him anymore. “You know what, Charlie, I am mad at him. Really mad. If he wanted some time alone to think, or to go look for some place where it might be easier to live, well that’s fine. He’s got every right to do that. I might have said ‘Amen.’ But he shouldn’t have left us like this, not knowing where he is.” “Amen to that.” Charlie sounded just like Pastor Newman. “But when he come back, you ain’t gonna say we gotta leave?” “No, I ain’t gonna say that. I would never do that. Cross my heart.” Afterward they strolled along Atwater, watching the bustle on the docks. They continued down past the last wharf where Charlie could take off his shoes and prance in the water, hopping over the sharp stones. Maybe I didn’t do so badly after all. Or maybe he’s just so used to holding pain in his heart, he isn’t even aware he’s doing it. On the way home she let him hold the reins and when they arrived she climbed down saying, “You know how to take care of the horses, brush them down and all, don’t you?” “Yes, ma’am.” He saluted, clearly pleased to be trusted with the responsibility. “Charlie,” she called, before he walked off leading the team, “If you feel like you’d rather sleep on the sofa in my room until your daddy gets back, that would be alright with me.” “Nah. I ain’t no baby.” Olivia slipped in the back door, stole up the stairs to the room Charlie shared with his father, and went through Mourning’s clothes. As far as she could tell, he had taken three shirts and two or three pairs of trousers. One thing troubled her sorely; she couldn’t find the big coat he had recently bought. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Mourning Free, are you intending to be gone into the winter? Back downstairs, she stood outside Mrs. Porter’s door, wondering if she was having a lie down. “I can see your feet,” Mrs. Porter called from inside. “You best come on in.” Sitting at her writing table, she peered at Olivia over her spectacles. “So is our Charlie going to be a choir boy?” “Apparently so. Which means every Monday morning and Thursday afternoon I’ll be driving him into town, if you care to ride along. Were you planning on reading with him this afternoon?” “Well, of course.” It continued to astonish Olivia, how completely Mrs. Porter had changed. When Mourning and Laisha had arrived with Charlie, Mrs. Porter had at first objected to sitting to table with them. Now rather than claim, as so many whites did, that coloreds should know their place and had no need of education, she had volunteered to help Charlie with his letters and numbers. It seemed to have happened in the blink of an eye, the moment she’d decided to help Olivia whisk a package of slaves across the river to safety in Canada. Maybe there is hope of healing for this sick old world. “He’s out in the barn now, tending to the team and buggy,” Olivia said. “I thought I might go for a walk.” “Go on ahead, take some time to yourself. I’ll see that the little rascal stays out of mischief. Though sometimes I think I need more looking after than he does.” Olivia feared she might begin weeping. It would have felt good to throw herself into the older woman’s arms and sob, but she had too often heard Mrs. Porter cluck her tongue about emotional displays. So she said only, “Thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Maybe I’ll try to catch us something more interesting for dinner than smoked venison.” “There’s some scraps by the sink you could use for bait.” Olivia retrieved a fishing pole and tackle pouch from the water closet that Jeremy had never gotten to work, donned a long white apron, and walked down the road to “her” landing. The last thing she felt like doing was cleaning fish, but she threw the line in anyway. Of course, it wasn’t ten minutes before she pulled out a wall-eye and, almost as quickly, a large bass took the line. Never bite when you want them to, she muttered and tossed the bass onto the patch of grass where the finally-still wall-eye lay. Then came a long quiet patch of what she needed – nothing but the ripple of the river’s current, chirping of birds, and occasional loud caw of a gull. She burst into sobs and was holding the hem of her apron to her face when she heard Michelle’s voice from the road. “Okay, I know you got to get that out. Ain’t good for much, but at least it’ll help make you sick and tired of thinkin’ ’bout him.” Michelle took the few steps down to the landing. “So go on, get it over with.” She nudged Olivia aside, sat next to her on the flat boulder, and put her arm around her shoulders. “You know there might not be any need for you to carry on like this. Could be he got some kinda news, sudden like.” “In the middle of the night? No. It wasn’t anything sudden. He quit his job a week ago.” “Well, maybe whatever come up warn’t something he wanted to bother you with, especially since he knew he’s gonna be back before you know it.” “He took that long wool coat he just bought.” Michelle tightened her grip around her friend and sucked in a breath. “Okay then, you best get on with some serious crying. But when it gets toward suppertime, we’re going back to your beautiful house, you’re gonna put something in your stomach, and we’re gonna sit on your beautiful porch, watching your beautiful river, while we finish off your delicious rum pot. And I won’t hear one more word about the villain. Not one. Valentines, children’s books, who to invite to Sunday dinner – anything but Mr. Mourning Free. He ain’t deserving of our attention. Not until he proves otherwise.” “I’m already sick of thinking about him,” Olivia said, before bursting into more sobs and allowing Michelle to hold her like a child. Later, as they were walking back to the house, they saw Mr. Abraham turning up the drive in his old Conestoga wagon. He used to travel four states, peddling his wares. Now his wagon was piled high with firewood and other supplies for Olivia. Once an intermittent boarder, he now managed the business side of the house for her. At first he had been reluctant to accept the job, thinking the offer of it came from kindness and concern for his poor health. But Olivia convinced him she longed to be free of those responsibilities and able to concentrate on the new business Michelle and she had started. And, she reminded him, she couldn’t hire a stranger without risk of endangering the packages the Underground Railroad delivered to the secret space in the barn. Back from a long day in Detroit, Mr. Abraham emitted his usual half sigh/half groan as he climbed down to greet them. “My two beautiful shiksehs. How are the ladies today?” Elbow bent, he placed his hand on his hip and stretched his back. “That’s a groisseh pile of wood for the schvartze to unload and stack.” He had long ago begun calling Mourning the Yiddish word that could be taken as an insult, but did so affectionately. Mourning returned the favor by calling Mr. Abraham “the old beard.” “Mourning’s gone away for a while,” Michelle said. “Olivia and I can take care of that.” “Nonsense, that’s no job for two flimsy little girls. Tomorrow I can to go back to Detroit and hire someone. I can to bring you back a nice young man.” “No, old man, us little girls are going to do it. It’ll be good for us,” Michelle said. “No, no. The wood, okay, you can to do that, a few pieces in one time. But there are sacks of rice and flour.” He clucked his tongue. “Not for skinny women.” “Actually,” Olivia spoke up, “I think that kind of job is just the thing for me. Just leave the wagon in the barn, and we’ll get to it first thing in the morning. I know how to get a heavy sack down – tie a rope around it, wrap the rope around the back post, and slowly lower the sack down, right into the wheelbarrow.” “I always known you are very clever.” Mr. Abraham shook his head. “But an engineer, this I didn’t know.” He turned away to lead the team into the barn. Olivia and Michelle went in the front door and Olivia called for Charlie. Mrs. Porter came out of the kitchen. “He’s out pretending to hunt, with that wooden rifle his daddy made for him.” When Mrs. Porter was widowed and first came to board with Olivia, she said she’d done enough cooking for twelve lifetimes – in the restaurant she and her husband had owned. On a few occasions when Olivia had needed help, Mrs. Porter pitched in. Now she often volunteered to help Janie Renfro with the meals. Even Miss Streeter had taken to joining in, and they seemed to work happily together, an odd threesome keeping each other company. “It’s getting on time to call him in for his supper,” Mrs. Porter said. Soon they were seated around the table – Olivia, Charlie, Michelle, Mrs. Porter, Miss Streeter, and Mr. Abraham. Michelle had removed Mourning’s usual chair, set it against the wall by the door. Mrs. Porter began ladling out bowls of soup. “It’s vegetable tonight,” she said to Mr. Abraham, who had given up trying to use only the separate dishes Olivia had bought for him, but still tried to maintain a precarious line between what was kosher and what was not. “That pass muster with you, Your Highness?” “It is most excellent,” he replied. “Can’t see how you Jews manage with all them rules. I bet you got one for how to blow your nose.” “Not exactly for that.” He grinned, always happy to irk her. “But we are saying a prayer to thank God for helping us remove all the drek from our bodies.” “Chosen people, my eye,” Mrs. Porter went on. “What kind of God would choose an old grump like you for any dang thing?” “Ah, but dear lady, He didn’t choose us. It was the opposite. He was stuck with us. He first was going to everyone else, nation to nation. Ammonites, Moabites, Jebusites, you name a people, He asked them. Do you want to accept my Torah? What’s in it, they all want to know. Rules for this, rules for that. Lots of rules. No thanks, they all said. Find some other blockheads. So finally, what can He do? He goes to these Jews who are giving Moses such a bad time, complaining about having only manna from heaven to eat, wanting even to go back to Egypt. Do you want to accept my Torah? he asks them. How much it is costing? they ask.” Mr. Abraham shrugged his shoulders in mock surrender. They had all heard the story before – several times – but still exchanged grins. “You folks do know how to squeeze a nickel, I’ll give you that.” Mrs. Porter set a bowl of soup on his plate. Mr. Abraham shook his head, waving a forefinger back and forth. “Who is talking? Young lady, you are forgetting, I seen you at the grocer’s. To you, I must to take off my hat. In a Persian bazaar you will make them pay you for taking a carpet.” He turned to Olivia in a more serious tone. “I found some boarders. Two men, not married, for the two rooms on the top. And for the room across from Charlie and Mourning, a nice married couple. They are looking for –” “Who gives a hoot about the married couple?” Michelle interrupted him. “Let’s hear about the two men.” “Shame on you. You have your Jeremy.” “Not for me, old coot. I was asking for Mrs. Porter and Miss Streeter.” Olivia spoke little, while they continued teasing one another. She caught Mr. Abraham watching her, looking worried, and plastered a smile on her face. After supper Olivia took Charlie up to bed. Then she and Michelle settled themselves on the porch, to seek the consolation of the rum pot. Michelle looked out at the river. “Just like yesterday, I remember that day you first stumbled into my dress shop, looking like a miserable little girl, scratches and bruises all over you, hair like a bird’s nest. Never saw a soul look so lost. But you had iron in you.” “I can still see you too. Out in the alley, smoking with Slim Johnny. Speaking with that fake French accent, flirting with everyone, showing off half your titties. I’d never met anyone like you. And it turned out I’d never met anyone so kind. I bet most people don’t know that about you. You don’t often let it show.” “Ain’t many folks I feel like bein’ kind to.” “Remember the way I dressed those dressmakers’ frames in your shop windows? With wadded up newsprint for titties and loops of yellow yarn for hair?” They went on reminiscing until Olivia grew tired and reached for Michelle’s hand. “You know, before you, I never had a friend. Not unless you count . . . the villain who is not to be spoken of. I’ll always have you, won’t I?” “That’s for sure. I’m terrible hard to get rid of. And . . . truth is, I never had a friend either. Not until you popped up.” “Really?” Olivia turned to her in surprise. “I always thought you must have had mobs of friends.” Michelle shook her head. “No one you’d want to have to count on.” They let go of one another’s hand and sat through a short silence, both rocking their chairs. “Do you think Mr. Abraham will ever go back to his family in Cleveland?” Olivia asked. “No.” The door opened behind them and Olivia jumped, expecting to see Mourning, hat in hand. But it was Charlie. “Miss Olivia?” “Yes, Charlie.” She waved him to come close. “Is something the matter?” “Do you still want me to sleep in your room, just in case you get ascared or somethin’?” “Why, yes I do. I’ll feel much safer if you’re in there with me. Thank you for offering. Let’s go get you a sheet and blanket. You go upstairs, bring your pillow down.”

Chapter Two

Detroit, Michigan Sunday, May 14 Mourning Leaving was easy. Mourning spent his last Sunday with Charlie, just the two of them, dawn till dark. Throughout that day he often paused to stare at his son, as if seeing him for the first time. He was getting so big – turned six in March – and was tall for his age. Tall and skinny, with a wide smile. But when white folks were around – except for those in Olivia’s house – he spent too much time with his eyes on the ground. Mourning found himself constantly putting two fingers under the boy’s chin and gently guiding it up. “World be up here, son. Ain’t nothin’ but dirt to look at down there.” They rose early and did their chores, before they cleaned up and drove into Detroit, to the Black Second Baptist Church. In the back of the buggy Mourning had hidden the picnic basket he’d asked Olivia to pack, along with Charlie’s short trousers, and a towel. After the church service Mourning told Charlie he had a surprise for him. “You been wantin’ to ride on one a them ferry boats, ain’t ya?” They took one of the short rides – to the shore of Lake St. Clair. Mourning rolled up his trouser legs and they splashed one another in the water and dug in the sand, before having their picnic. Olivia had tucked a red and white checkered tablecloth into the basket, just like the one on which she’d been having a picnic with her rag doll, way back when they were kids and nine-year-old Mourning came straggling out of the water. He’d been in the westward bound wagon of the family that had taken him in, but jumped off and followed the river back to Five Rocks. He may not have been happy in that town of all white folks, but he’d felt safe. Mourning watched as Charlie waded into the lake up to mid-thigh and stood with one leg thrust forward and bent at the knee, beating the waves with his fists, as if engaged in combat. My father been born a slave. I been born on free soil, but some cracker coulda claimed me as his property. Charlie been born . . . what? Free, sure, he be free. At least he ain’t no slave. Ain’t got the fear of no slave-catchers in him. But he ain’t free like a white boy. He don’t go into no restaurant or get on no ferry without wonderin’ if he gonna be llowed. Charlie would wake tomorrow morning and find his father’s bed empty. What kind of father leaves his son without so much as a goodbye? But Mourning felt no guilt or shame. What good had ever come of a tearful farewell? Best to simply be gone. Charlie would never be alone the way Mourning had. Even if something happened to Olivia – Michelle, Mr. Abraham, Mr. Carmichael, and even Mrs. Porter would look out for him. And Mourning was going to come back for him, just as soon as he got things worked out in his mind. He’d thought of leaving a note, but there was no explanation for this decision that white folks would understand. It had been a long time coming. Too long. What I gonna write? That I gotta learn to be a man? That I never done nothin’ but find white folks what I thought I could trust and stuck with em? I followed Livia out to Michigan and stuck with her, even after she ’fessed there been a new law and I could a been gettin’ my own land. And it been her what put her hand on me. Spose to be a man what do that. And a man ain’t spose to put hisself in danger just cause some woman done a stupid thing like that. Man ain’t spose to bring a child into the world just cause some woman been feelin’ weak and sick one day. Ain’t nothin’ in my life, not since I run away from Goody Carter, that been my own doin’. I ain’t blamin’ Livia for nothin’. She always been fair and good with me, but it gettin’ so I can’t look at her no more without ’maginin’ her tied up in that barn. And where I been? Runnin’ scared. It been easy for Filmore to scare the nigger off. So easy. ‘Boy, they’s some slave-catchers lookin’ for you.’ That all he had to say and I run like a damn rabbit. He doubted he would ever trust and admire another woman as he did Olivia Killion, but for now – until he was out of Detroit, away from this life, on his way to finding the life he was supposed to have – she was nothing but an obstacle he needed to avoid. Charlie wouldn’t notice anything strange about his father’s behavior, no matter how much Mourning stared at him. But Olivia? She noticed every damn thing. He wanted to escape quietly, no tears and no anger. Most of all no questions – because he had no answers. They were home by late afternoon and Mourning suggested they go down to the river and fish for a while. He found no last words of wisdom to impart and was happy to remain silent, listening to Charlie chatter about the colored boys he played with in the neighborhoods east of Randolph Street. After supper and putting Charlie to bed, Mourning waited until he heard Olivia in the parlor with Miss Streeter. Then he stole down the stairs, to stash the belongings he planned to take with him in the barn. Olivia was in the kitchen when he came in. “This been some long Sunday,” he said. “Think I gonna turn in.” “At least have a cup of tea with me.” “Don’t want no tea, but I sit with you.” He pulled out a chair at the table, to avoid having to follow her out to the front porch. He had hoped to forego any more conversation at all, but couldn’t refuse. He was surprised at how detached from her he felt. This must be how she felt bout leavin’ her family, once she had them wicker baskets packed and hidden in them bushes, waitin’ on me to come get em. Once a body’s set on somethin’. . . Maybe it mostly come from bein’ sure it be the right thing, sure you ain’t got no choice. Neither of them had much to say and Olivia’s smile was weary. She freed him at last, saying she was also tired. The next morning he rose early, tiptoed down the stairs carrying his boots, and sat on the back steps to put them on. Out in the barn he strapped his Bowie knife to the inside of his left calf, shrugged into his new great coat, tied the old flour sack filled with his belongings to his back, slung his Hawken rifle and possibles bag over his shoulder, and put a reassuring hand on the Colt in his holster. Once he was off the drive and out of sight, he even smiled. With the flour sack over his shoulder he imagined he looked like one of the Children of Israel, fleeing from Pharaoh. Encumbered as he was, the walk to Detroit seemed longer than usual. When he’d tried on the great coat in the store, he’d paced back and forth, imagining himself a colored Andy Jackson or Jean Lafitte. But out on the road it only added more weight to the sag of his shoulders. He was no swashbuckler now, already in a sweat. At the livery he negotiated with old man Thompson for the cheapest horse he had, along with saddle blanket, saddle, scabbard, and two large saddle packs. He arranged his belongings in one of the packs and took the other to the nearest general store and green grocer, to fill it with what he thought was enough food for eight days on the trail. He also bought a new wide-brimmed hat. He would be heading south, toward Indiana, which meant backtracking and passing right in front of Olivia’s boarding house. In an unfamiliar hat and riding a strange horse, he didn’t believe she was likely to recognize him. Even so, he prayed she wouldn’t be out on the front porch. Riding past her house like that, without a glance, was going to feel even worse than sneaking down the stairs like a thief. Back at the livery he filled his water skins and searched his pocket for a coin, saying, “And I be needin’ two small sacks of grain for the horse.” Thompson spat on the floor and held up a palm. “No charge for that. Take ’em off that pile over there. Them cords are good and strong. Just tie ’em together and throw ’em over the back of your saddle.” Mourning slid his rifle into the scabbard, mounted the horse, touched his forefinger to the brim of his hat, and that was that. He was on his way. He was also, however, in unexpected and extreme discomfort. The last time he was in Olivia’s room he’d found and appropriated her moneybag. When they’d traveled out to Detroit together – both of them green, scared, and determined to put on a good face for the other – she’d worn the bag around her waist to conceal her gold coins under her skirts. Mourning had put most of his money in it, tied it around his waist, and tucked it inside his baggy trousers. But when he’d swung his leg over the horse’s back the darn thing had settled in an unfortunate position that kept him squirming until he was out of town. The moment he passed the first bend in the road, he stopped to stand in the saddle, unbutton his trousers, and rearrange matters. “Okay, Old Nag.” He patted the horse’s neck, his tone disgruntled. “Don’t be payin’ no mind to that. Now we be ’fficially startin’ this journey.” He rolled his shoulders back and sat high in the saddle. “You and me gonna be just fine.” He couldn’t remember the horse’s name and so alternated between Old Nag and Old Girl, while he kept up a steady conversation with her. The sun was high enough to glitter on the river. By now Olivia must have had her first cup of coffee, sitting outside and enjoying the sight of it. She never seemed to tire of watching that powerful current of water flow by. He emitted a soft sigh, but forced himself to put those feelings aside. That house had never been anything like a real home to him. Before rounding the next bend and coming into view of it, he reined in the horse and leaned forward, peeking through the trees. The porch was empty and the front door closed. He pulled down his hat to cover his face and whispered, “Yah, Old Girl, let’s be walkin’ a little faster, but not too fast now, don’t wanna make no ruckus, call no ’ttention to us.” He continued a good half-mile past the house before he stopped, took off his hat, and mopped his brow. He dismounted, removed the heavy coat, and scrunched it behind the saddle, underneath the feedbags. So yes, leaving was easy. No promises to make and break. He patted the horse’s neck again. “That it, Old Girl. We be on our way. Ought a make Maumee in two days, maybe three. That where them riverboats be at. I ain’t sure how far, maybe a hundert miles from here to there, but you ain’t gotta worry none. They’s trails most a the way and no mountains or nothin’. I don’t know for sure about rivers in our way, so maybe we gonna have to cut back sometimes, you know, till we find a crossing.” After the road curved away from the river he no longer felt like talking. Without the familiar rush of water the world was silent. Empty. Nothing but the buzz of flies and mosquitoes. The road seemed to go on forever and with the sun overhead he frequently wiped his forehead with his sleeve. When he heard a wagon approaching around the next bend he tugged on the reins. Old Girl stepped into the woods, where Mourning dismounted and led her behind a tree with low-hanging branches. He knew they would be visible to anyone who looked directly at them and prayed no one would. He stroked Old Gal, put a finger to his lips, and issued a whispery, “Shhhh.” The two white men in the wagon that came around the bend were busy arguing about the price of corn and never glanced their way. Old Girl swung around to stare at Mourning, her head lowered like a disapproving schoolteacher. “Don’t be lookin’ at me like that. I ain’t afraid of ’em,” Mourning said, meeting her gaze with a stern look. “But ain’t no one never been sorry ’bout bein’ too careful. Opposite be true, though. You can be sure a that. So you just mind your horse business, leave the cracker control business to me.” It was too soon for a rest, but he decided to stop anyway and freed the horse to graze on the tall grass. “You a good old gal, you are. Long as we off the road, might as well put somethin’ in our bellies. And I can tell you ’bout where we goin’ to.” Once he’d given her feed and water and sat down, back against a tree, chewing a strip of jerky, he remained silent for a while. Maybe leaving Olivia and Charlie had been easy, but being without them was going to be hard. He found himself weeping silent tears and wiped them away. “Don’t you be givin’ me that look either,” he scolded Old Gal. “I done the right thing. Man what can’t protect his woman – his child – ain’t good for nothin’. And I do worse than not protect ’em.” His voice rose. “It be me what bringin’ the danger on ’em.” He fidgeted to get more comfortable. “And she got a letter from that fart Avis, saying they’s comin’ to Detroit to visit. Livia keep sayin’ that warn’t gonna be no problem. Her brother ain’t gonna give a single thought to nothin’ but how much it would cost to open a store in Detroit. And Tobey? She say Tobey be Tobey. Ain’t no one know what he thinkin’ ’bout nothin’. She right ’bout that. Keep his opinions to hisself. But the sister-in-law, that Lady Mabel. One look at me and Charlie – won’t take her two licks to put it together.” He coughed and spat before he got to his feet – feeling old man stiff – and prepared to continue on his journey. He took a folded paper from his pocket and shook it open. “See this here? Got it from a new fella at work, name a Fred, just got back from the war – one a them idiots what went ridin’ off to steal Texas away from the Mexicans.” He mounted Old Gal. “Anyway he draw me this map what show us how to get to Maumee, where I gotta sell you and get on a boat. You know they dug a big ditch all the way to the Ohio River? I ain’t foolin’ you. It ain’t much deeper than a grave, but it be forty foot wide. Just think on how much dirt you gotta move to do that. Fred say lots a them diggers died from mosquitoes and snakes and whatnot. He said they figure every six feet of canal cost ’em one dead body, but ain’t no way that be true. Day he tole me that I gone home and figured it on paper. You got 5,280 feet in a mile. Divide that by six you gonna get 880 dead people for every mile. I can’t ’member how long that ditch be, but you multiply 880 by however many miles, you gonna get one big mess of corpses lying around rotting. Whole state a Indiana gonna be one big cemetery. And them diggers mostly been Irishmen and Germans. White people. You think white people gonna throw away that many other white people’s lives for some ditch? No ma’am.” He studied the map. “Part a the way be on old Indian trails, but we also got some roads.” He refolded the map and returned it to his pocket, lacking any certainty that he would recognize the landmarks Fred had marked on it. “Course gettin’ lost ain’t gonna be no tragedy, seein’ as I don’t rightly know where I want to get to in the end. But we gonna start out lookin’ to get to Maumee, in Ohio, and from there to Indiana. But don’t you spect to be seein’ no Indians, just cause it be called Indiana. Ain’t no more of ’em ’round here, ’ccount of white soldier boys removin’ ’em. That what white folks call it. Indian removal. Don’t sound so bad. Them words don’t call up no picture a people walkin’ from here to Kansas and lots of ’em dyin’. Just so you know. Case up till now you been thinkin’ too kindly of white folks. “They got their own way a lookin’ at things, white folks do. Own way a thinkin’ what words mean. How ’bout America buyin’ a whole mess a land from France? You thinkin’ that land gotta be in France, right? That what anyone with any horse sense gonna think.” He paused, grinned, and patted her flank. “You hear that? Horse sense. Ha. But it ain’t in France. It’s right here in America, on the other side of a whole ocean from France. “Anyway, that land really belongs to the Indians, but the Spaniards came and stole it from them. Then a French king or some-such ends up sellin’ it to the Americans. You gotta be white folks type smart to figure that. Now they had them a big war cause that warn’t enough land – they hadda take Texas from the Mexicans. This country look crowded to you? Me neither. “They say they gonna make a law says any new land they get gotta be free. That means can’t be no slavery on it. But folks didn’t like that law and thought up somethin’ else called ‘popular sovereignty.’ Had to aks Jeremy what that mean. He say ‘popular’ mean ‘of the people’ and ‘sovereignty’ mean freedom or people’s right to control their own life. What that law want to say is that the people who be livin’ in a place get to decide if they ’llowed to buy slaves or not. See? To white folks ‘freedom of the people’ means free to buy other people. That some more of white folks type smart.” He rode in silence for a long while, nervously consulting his map every half hour. When his stomach began complaining he found a clearing where he unsaddled and hobbled the horse. After they had both eaten, he stretched out using the saddle for a pillow. “Mexico. That where I spose to be goin’. Fred say all the officers what gone to that war hadda get white servants, ’ccount a whatever slaves they brought with ’em escaped over the border to Mexico and never came back. “I gonna go see ’bout it, ’cept ain’t really no point in searchin’ too hard cause I know Livia ain’t gonna leave that house. She do love that house.” He sighed and closed his eyes. “So where I goin’? That be one big question. Maybe I just got a need to be on my own. Ride on a riverboat. Watch Indians ridin’ free. See a buffalo.” He stared into the woods with a wistful gaze. “You know, Old Nag, I remember one day, one hour – when me and Livia first come out lookin’ for her uncle’s cabin. We bought us a wagon in Detroit and hadda cross this river and when we get to the other side it been all soft and grassy, like an angel’s pillow. Even the sun been soft, touchin’ my skin like a woman’s hand.” He stretched out his right arm and ran his fingers over it. Old Gal emitted a noncommittal snort. “I dint want to ever get up. First time in my life I been doin’ ’xactly what I want and I gonna lie on my back long as I want. Free. On my own. Sure Livia been there, but she the one needin’ me. Couldna even crossed that river without me. Sure couldn’t put no roof on no cabin, plow no field. And I knew it, lyin’ in that glorious warm sun. Could feel her sittin’ over there, not far from me, scared what she gonna do without me. I been glad she be there and all, but I warn’t feelin’ grateful to no one. No need for that. Now she the one gotta feel grateful to me. “Lot of times folks aks people if they be happy. I never know what they mean by that. Spose it be different for everyone. Me, I know I been happy for that one hour on that one day. Think you can help me get back there, Old Gal? Back to feelin’ easy and peaceful, like I’m lyin’ in soft grass, on a river bank, in the sun?”