Ariel (Sequoyah), Aleta, Ethan, Miriam, Luz, Jaroslav, Anichka, and their children fill The Last Shade Tree’s pages with their ever roiling emotions. Quotations showing their passion-filled thoughts and exchanges come with a promise: none of them are plot spoilers!
Aleta hated the way her brain kept reeling out thoughts that detracted from the romance she’d hoped to feel. This may be the freakiest first-time sex anyone’s ever had, and I won’t tell Geraldine the details ’cause she’ll accuse me of making everything up.... Then she sucked in her breath. It could be worse. At least it’s not a violin audition.
Then Miriam kissed him again, this time hard on his lips as if to emphasize her next words.... “But what would you really like to do with your life?”
Ariel felt the room spin. In a passion-induced haze, he blurted out an answer without thinking. “I know there’s poetry inside me, the words are in my head; they just can’t come out. More than anything, I want to be a poet.”
Miriam didn’t seem surprised; perhaps she had known what his answer would be. Pulling him closer, she placed one hand over his eyes and the other on his thigh.
Luz was right about the crib. And Svnoyi’s belongings had disappeared too—her blankets, her clothes, even her toys....
Luz steered him in the general direction of his battered dresser. “Hurry up, Ethan, put something on. We should go to the police.”
Ethan mumbled in a choked voice, ”Even the little dresses I picked out from the Sears Catalog are gone.”
“Put a sock in it, Ethan. If I’d known I’d be employed by the Blubber Family I might have refused the job, although come to think of it, feeling Ari’s dorsals and other interesting protuberances at the front—Ethan, can’t you even tie your shoes?”
Ethan wiped his eyes on his hand. “Would you just shut up for one minute, Luz? My baby ... my baby is gone.”
Ariel descended lightly onto the curb of the Santa’s Village parking lot next to the reindeer pen—the very spot where he and Ethan had shoved and punched each other three years before. His despair mingled not inharmoniously with chipmunk voices singing Deck the Halls through hidden loudspeakers and the odor of the captive Lapland beasts panting in the California sun.
Aleta’s last night in the wagon’s confines had been a torture of bruising bumps as she wheezed, hacked, and flailed about, burning up with fever. The next morning the sun heated the enclosed space, stifling the sick and dying inside. Aleta begged the sisters to leave her in a little copse away from the trail.
“I will die soon in the wagon anyway. I would rather lie in the shade of these trees....”
Aleta was alone. She tried to resign herself to death by closing her aching eyes and folding her hands over her high round belly. She could hear insects buzzing in the tall grass and the rustling of the cottonwoods’ leaves. The air smelled of summer’s rotting vegetation, still an improvement over the stench of human misery in the wagon.
Anichka stared out the window at the tall peaks, already outlined in silhouette by the last glow of late afternoon. When she continued her story she seemed distracted, her eyes gazing inward at a rutted road filled with grey-faced refugees.
“I start to go home. For Roma is dangerous to walk on road, and I am big, many months big. And I cry all the days I walk. I know Werther is crying back in factory, I can hear him in my head.”
Aleta could barely see Anichka in the growing darkness of the room. She pictured her friend alone and helpless under a brazen sun, weeping without pause for her Werther as she stumbled beneath the weight of her belly.
Tiny fair-haired Lucy was already whining about the food even before they’d sat down. “I won’t eat any dinner, I won’t. And Mama can’t make me. Mr. Ariel, before the butcher cut off Mrs. Chicken’s head, she said, ‘cluck-cluck.’ Maybe she said really, ‘I love laying pretty brown eggs.’
“What happened next, Mr. Ariel?” Lucy grasped her straining neck in both hands to simulate the beheading. Then she sank to the floor in slow motion, rippling her arms as gracefully as a Dying Swan before twitching in death’s throes for at least a minute.
At first Ariel thought she might be a six-year-old clowning around, but then he noticed that she was serious enough to hide her face in her hands after her theatrical reenactment.
Adrenaline flooded Ariel’s stomach. Flexing his muscular arms and tightening his fists, he backed Ethan into the bookcase with a resounding thump, which let loose a hailstorm of green Physical Review magazines. During the commotion, the rush-bottomed chair lost the battle with gravity, smacking the hardwood floor. But Ariel knew just how much damage he could inflict and stopped short of slamming a fist into his cowering opponent.
Instead he bellowed, tears lurking behind his rage. “You should hear yourself, you racist.”
Ariel stared anxiously at the sun’s departing rays that had left a mere afterglow along the rim of the mountain crests. He surmised rightly that there was much more on Yacy’s mind than simple appreciation for the High Tatras’ natural wonders.
“Yacy, are you tired?”
She shook her head with conviction, but then changed her mind, exclaiming, “Yes, yes, Daddy Sequoyah, I’m just so, so tired. Can we stop for a little while?”
Ariel knelt on one knee to look her straight in the eye. “Something’s up, Yacy. You’re worried about meeting the new people, aren’t you?” He rested his hands on her shoulders. “Jaroslav’s big and nice like a teddy-bear, and Anichka is a real gypsy. Svnoyi is just your age, and Phoenix can make anything grow, even delicious strawberries—”
Yacy interrupted him in a pet. “I’m never gonna tell you what’s wrong, so don’t bother to ask.”
She whirled around and started running down the trail as Ariel sprang up, mumbling imprecations under his breath about temperamental little girls.
Just as outside pressure threatened their little world, the household suddenly found itself ripped apart from the inside. In the middle of the night, an unearthly screech tore through the tranquil cabin, breaching even the sturdy hand-hewn logs. The blue pines that stretched protective branches over the peaked roof dropped half their needles in agitation as the two families, snug beneath layers of homemade quilts, sat bolt upright. The babies howled and everyone else quaked in terror. Even sensible Svnoyi, who had just finished reading Dracula the night before, yanked her quilt over her head. Didn't I just hear ivory-fanged vampires suddenly rip out the throats of wailing virgins, and a thousand ghosts keen in earsplitting unison?
Not even an ex-football player of Ariel’s caliber could have caught a flying tureen of leftover stew. The contents, mainly hot root vegetables and thick broth, hit the wall above Birdie’s head and ricocheted across the table, splatting her two perfectly behaved young sons and Atsina’s sweet toddler twin girls squarely in their terrified faces. The husbands, who had so far sat gamely on the sidelines, sprang into action, wrestling the intoxicated Jaroslav to the floor. Knocked flat on his back, he bayed like a wolf at the overhead light fixture before passing out.
Kuaray sprang up. He started to cry, not even bothering to hide it and Ariel knew that for once his tears were genuine.
He sobbed, the muscles in his face twitching every which way. “Jesus, Sequoyah, couldn’t you just of answered like a real dad? You could’ve said you were pissed as hell for what I did to Mohe and Yacy, and all the rest of the things I did. You could've yelled at me, punched me in the gut with your fist real hard to make me a better person—like you loved me enough to care.”