Sandra Shwayder Sanchez was born in Denver Colorado in 1946.
She attended Denver University Law School as an older returning student and has represented poor and minority
clients in Criminal and Family matters for the past two decades. She has two daughters, Rachel and Sara.
Sandra lives in Nederland, Colorado with her second husband Ed Sanchez, where she continues to practice law,
and writes stories and novels when she is not hiking the mountains.
Abraham, Sarah and Robert Isaac
arah had only one child, a boy and him
late in life. She’d hoped for a girl to talk to and to help out in the kitchen but she couldn’t complain seeing
as it had begun to look like she’d never have a child at all. She and her husband had taken in orphans from time
to time, always girls, but they all left Gap Mills as soon as they could, not a bit of gratitude among them. Her
husband, Abraham was overjoyed of course and all the more that it was a boy. He said they should name the boy
Isaac because of the similarities they shared with the biblical family.
“Well I ain’t no ninety years old yet and you best not be thinking to take our
boy up top Little Mountain and scaring the living daylights outta him!” For her part, Sarah wanted to name the
child Robert after her own father but it meant a lot to Abraham to give his son a biblical name, causing Sarah
to wonder if he’d married her for her name alone.
“Of course not. What gave you that idea? Sides they was plenty of Sarahs I coulda
married if that was what I was after.” Sarah couldn’t remember any other Sarahs from around there who weren’t
too old or too young for Abraham to marry but she figured what was done was done and she may as well be arguing
over her son’s name as over how many Sarahs her husband might coulda married way back then.
Abraham suggested they give the boy both names: Isaac Robert and Sarah said that
was alright by her because she planned to call him Robbie anyway. In point of fact she never did call him Robbie.
Even as an infant, the boy had a sour expression that did not invite diminutives or terms of affection whether he
was spoken to or about.
About the time Robert was a year old Sarah decided she wanted a rose bush in the
front yard and she asked Abraham to get her one in town but he said it was too dear and maybe next year. Year
after year Sarah requested her rose bush and year after year Abraham gave one excuse or another. There was one
exchange between them that Robert didn’t understand at the time. He remembered his father telling his mother
that if she would allow Maggie Alice back she could have as many rose bushes as she could take care of but
Sarah was dead set against having that little slut back in their lives and said she hoped Maggie Alice was
far away and suffering for her sin if not actually dead.
In point of fact, Maggie Alice lived in the town not ten miles distant but Robert
wouldn’t find that out for many years. After that conversation, his mother never again requested a rose bush but
he saw her look longingly at the roses in town gardens whenever they all went to town. It was also after that
conversation that Abraham stopped talking to his wife. He’d grunt in response to anything she said and started
doing a lot of things for himself since he couldn’t bring himself to ask her to do anything for him. He also
started talking out loud and gesticulating to some person no one could see and some people said he was crazy
and some people said he was talking to God.
Sarah worried that Abraham might indeed take Robert up top Little Mountain to
sacrifice him and even though she knew the bible story ended well, she didn’t trust her crazy husband not to
get carried away and fail to hear God telling him to never mind the boy and sacrifice a lamb instead. She
warned Robert never to climb Little Mountain with his father and Robert never did.
By 1939, Abraham was safely in the ground himself and Sarah tended the rose bush
she and Robert planted on his grave to little avail. No matter how much they pruned, mulched, watered and
fertilized it, each bud turned out to be yet another green leaf and no flower. Sarah said Abraham cursed the
very soil he was buried in and Robert believed that, seeing as how the rose bush refused to flower for so
Robert had been a good student if a little strange. He read well at an early age
and delighted in learning the few words of the various languages his teachers had once studied and mostly forgotten.
Robert liked to learn the little out of the way things no one else could see any use in. He thought to someday
impress people with his bits of esoterica, “esoterica” being one of those words he especially liked. He dreamed
of impressing some city woman although where he expected to encounter a city woman was never clear.
Robert and Sarah had electric back then and a radio and they listened to the news
together every evening. Robert had graduated high school and been working the farm for three years when Pearl
Harbor was bombed and the United States went to war. Sarah agreed with Robert he should go. In her heart she
didn’t really believe he could be killed. In her heart she hoped he’d see the world and maybe meet some nice
women because none of the girls in their little corner of the county had ever given Robert so much as a glance,
lean and tough as he was like a piece of baling twine and sour looking too.
Robert woke up well before the sun and did the milking and then packed a little
lunch and set off walking to the nearest city which was Roanoke across the state line in Virginia. Lots of
Virginians looked down their noses at the West Virginians but Robert didn’t care. He expected he’d be respected
in the uniform of the United States Army. He didn’t stop to visit anyone or even eat his lunch but plodded
along in his slow determined way up one mountain and down the next just as the crow flies, his usual frown
of concentration on his face as he fantasized stories of an exciting military career.
|"About the time Robert was a year old Sarah decided she wanted a
rose bush in the front yard and she asked Abraham to get her one in town but he said it was too dear and maybe
next year. Year after year Sarah requested her rose bush and year after year Abraham gave one excuse or
By noon he’d arrived at the outskirts of the city and got directions from various
people to the town centre where he found the army recruiting office. There was a truck full of boys from over in
Newcastle but they didn’t speak to Robert nor he to them. While he waited his turn he heard crude talk of
“memselles” and low laughter, but no one actually talked to him. Any conversation Robert was ever privy to
was due to eavesdropping which he did shamelessly. When it came his turn, he filled out some forms and
submitted to a Doctor’s examination. Then he was rejected.
First they told him it was because he was flat-footed.
“I walked all the way into this here city this morning on these feet, never even stopped
to rest. Them town boys who come in the truck couldn’t a kept up with me even if they tried. If marching is what a
soldier does, I’m your man and quiet too, no one hears me in the woods lessen I want ‘em to.”
The man Robert spoke to said that was sure enough a truth and went to consult
someone else. When he came back he said he’d made a mistake and the army was rejecting Robert because of his poor
“Whatchu think I got these here glasses for? I see bettern you with these glasses.”
“Well then what do you think would happen if a grenade exploded in front of your face
and broke them glasses to smithereens. What then? You think we got eye doctors making eyeglasses for folks right
in the middle of the war?”
“Well seems to me if a grenade exploded in front of my face, these here eyeglasses
would be the least of my worries.”
The recruitment man saw the sense in that and went back to consult again but this
time did not return. Later someone else came out and asked Robert what he was still doing there and that the
office was closed for the day. It was 4pm and Robert had been up twelve hours and eaten only an apple
and a potted meat sandwich. He had $2 in his pocket and figured he’d better get some supper and head home.
The army didn’t want him and he didn’t like the look of the city.
When Sarah awoke to find Robert back home the next dawn she was both happy to have
him home again and sad that nothing wonderful had overtaken him in town. They went together to do the milking
and had their breakfast without speaking of his city excursion. Sarah figured if her son wanted her to know what
happened he’d tell her and Robert figured if his mother wanted to know what happened, she’d ask.
Maggie Alice and Ishmael
Sarah and Robert did all the chores together until the day she tripped over some
logs waiting to be loaded on the back of the pickup for the stove. She broke her hip and couldn’t move and Robert
couldn’t drive the old farm truck into town to get help because Sarah was right smack dab in the middle of the
logging road behind it. Sarah was a stoic country woman and didn’t make a noise about the pain but still Robert
wanted to hurry up and get the volunteer paramedics to help him get her moved and fixed up.
The volunteer paramedics were an interesting mix of old local people and some of
the hippies who had moved in to “get back to the land” and those hippies were a never ending source of amazement
and amusement to Robert. He liked to spy on them running around naked by the stream and making love on the rocks.
Robert was over forty years old by then and still a virgin but he sure liked spying on folks, just like he used
to enjoy eavesdropping on conversations, picking up whatever stories he could to embellish and pass on, mostly
to the hippies since most of the local people paid no attention to anything he said. When one of the hippies
drove past and asked if he wanted a ride into town he said he sure did and told them about what had happened
to Sarah except that he added he thought she might have had a stroke which thank-god was not the truth.
They took him to the firehouse which housed two vehicles, an ambulance and a fire
truck that they bought with money raised at dances held in the upstairs and the quilt raffle. The dances were
always held on the 4th of July and Robert and Sarah never went because he said those affairs were for the
“big-shots” in the town and he wasn’t one of them, so he felt kind of funny walking into the building and
asking for help. They had a telephone in the building and a list of people who were “on call” on specific
dates and pretty soon that ambulance was tearing down the washboard road to the Virginia/West Virginia state
line a mile away. There the road narrowed into a dirt path and there was a big turn-around across from the
roadside sign that said “Welcome to West Virginia” and was full of bullet holes. That was another reason
Robert never went to the dances: the town and everything that went with it was in Virginia.
All the volunteer fire department paramedics had gone to Covington to get special
training and knew how to move people without hurting them and how to recognize whether a person was bleeding
from a vein or an artery and things like that. They were glad to have something to do because the last time
they had been called had been months earlier and that was just to clean up an already dead body on the side
of the road: some drunk who had been walking too close to the road had his fool head taken clean off by the
side mirror of a semi speeding by in the dark. It was a pretty gruesome story what with them having to
search all over for the head because it had rolled quite some distance down the sloping shoulder and
into the woods. The guy who actually found it had lost his dinner but he never told that part of the story.
Eventually Sarah was carefully moved onto a stretcher and deposited into the ambulance.
The logging road they had to carry the stretcher down was rough but she didn’t weigh but a trifle, and she didn’t
complain when one of them tripped on some roots and almost dropped his end of the stretcher. They kept Sarah in
hospital for three days and taught her how to use her crutches before sending her back home. Robert sort of
camped out in the nearby woods, not having money for a motel room and not wanting to stay in his mother’s room
even though he was told that he could. It was a matter of modesty.
Modesty was the reason that Sarah asked Robert to send for Maggie Alice when she
was ready to come home. She was going to need help with bathing and other intimate bodily functions and she couldn’t
have her own son doing that kind of thing. Robert couldn’t believe his ears when his mother told him to ask one of
the hippie neighbors to go get Maggie Alice and told Robert she happened to know the woman would be happy to have
free room and board for herself and her son. She had to explain, albeit in as few words as possible, that she
had known all along where Maggie Alice lived and that she had forgiven the girl (now in her fifties) for messing
around with Abraham way back when Abraham died because by then she didn’t care that much. She seemed more
disgusted by the name Maggie Alice had given her son, that name being Ishmael, because if no one knew before
that the boy was Abraham’s son they would sure enough figure it out from that name. Robert was irritated that
his mother had neglected to tell him any of this but then he realized no one had officially told him anything
about Maggie Alice in the first place, he had learned of her existence by eavesdropping. Robert got himself
in a pickle sometimes that way, forgetting that he wasn’t supposed to have heard what he heard and later
commenting on those stolen bits of information or misinformation as it sometimes happened. So it was that
Maggie Alice and Ishmael came to live with old Sarah and Robert Isaac.
With the help of those hippie neighbours who loved a good old fashioned “barn-raising”
as they called it, Robert built an extra room onto the back of the house and that was Maggie’s room. Ishmael made
his bed up in the hayloft of the real barn where he seemed happy enough. Ishmael didn’t speak but wasn’t deaf, he
just ignored people. His mother said he was “autistic” and she’d been up to the hospital in Roanoke to find this
out. Sometimes he had fits but was otherwise easy enough to get along with.
As for the two women, truth be told, there was no love lost between them. What
they did have in common was each suffered a particular desperation. Sarah had no money to pay a woman to come
help her and the free room and board she could offer in exchange was rather paltry, such that few, if any,
women other than Maggie Alice would have been interested. Maggie Alice, on the other hand, was tired of
the soul crushing ugliness of her little apartment above the Newcastle Laundromat, not to mention the “holier
than thou” attitude of her landlady. Add to that the fact that the people of the town talked plenty about her
behind her back but never had much to say to her face and it had been so long since anyone had looked her in
the eye that on those rare occasions when someone did, she would respond with hostility, sometimes asking
outright what they thought they were looking at. Maggie Alice jumped at the chance to go back to the woods
to live where she could be alone with nature and her thoughts. She spent hours, while old Sarah slept,
sitting on a rock alongside the creek just dreaming her little daydreams in which she was young and beautiful
again and meeting some handsome stranger who came to town to take her away to whatever place she had last seen
on the television.
The other thing Maggie Alice liked to do in her spare moments was to tend the
garden. Ishmael helped in the garden and the work seemed to soothe his mood so he stopped having the fits and
was often quite joyful. He spoke in single words with gestures: “Bird” he would cry excitedly and point and
run down the road a ways to follow the flight of the creature so free and graceful. He didn’t mind snakes
either and would pick up the black snakes that came out from the undergrowth to bask in the sun on the flat
rocks alongside the creek. He recognized the copperheads and rattlers that were also common in summer and
knew not to touch them but he watched them and knew they would not attack him unless he did something to
scare them. He thought those folks who got an excited fear on them from the sight of snakes were just
being silly but he once got very angry at some boys who killed some rattlers for the fun and bravado of
it and then drove around with the still twitching snake bodies in the back of the pickup so they could
find some girls to frighten. Robert had to restrain him from rushing at those boys and hurting them for,
despite Ishmael’s small size, he had a ferocious strength when he was angry.
It was a while before Maggie Alice and Ishmael visited the grave of Abraham up the
hill back of the house. Maggie Alice saw it the very first day from her window but she hadn’t been ready yet to
go up there. Abraham had raped Maggie Alice, plain and simple, no effort at seduction at all, no effort to make
it less painful for her, no going slow, no sweet words, just a fast, silent rape. If she had had any idea of
where she could go, she would have run away then and there. But there was no place for her and no one to talk
to. Abraham never touched her after that but she still couldn’t help cringing in his presence and as soon as
she began to show Sarah ran her off anyway. Then and only then, did Abraham begin to express some concern,
not for Maggie Alice really but for his child. That was what he’d been wanting. He’d wanted to show Sarah
that he at least could produce a child. So Abraham gave Maggie Alice some money and told her to find an
apartment in New Castle and he would come to town to see her once a month. Back then the Laundromat was a
filling station and auto repair shop so Abraham could cover his brief and not completely secret visits to
Maggie Alice and Ishmael by claiming he needed some fixing on the old Ford.
When Maggie Alice and Ishmael did go to see the grave they found an old rose bush
that had no flowers on it, just a lot of tall spindly stalks filled with thorns and shiny deep green leaves. The
thorns were quite large and mean looking and Maggie Alice whispered to herself that they were just like Abraham
himself. Without consulting anyone, Ishmael began to tend to the rose bush and under his care, it began to flower.
It was an odd rose bush though because in the summer it put forth pink roses tinged with red and in the fall, white
roses tinged with pink. The roses were small considering the size of the stalks but delicate and exquisitely formed.
Ishmael loved every petal of every rose. Ishmael was so astonished by the appearance of the first white rose in the
fall that he decided to take Robert up the hill to look at it. He figured since Robert knew the Latin names of all
the plants in the region he therefore must know everything there was to know about the plants, including the strange
rose bush. In point of fact Robert only knew the names of things but very rarely the soul of them. Nonetheless
Robert attempted an explanation and thus began a kind of friendship between the two men.
Together they observed their mothers engage in petty acts of vindictiveness toward
each other. Maggie Alice would spit into Sarah’s lemonade. Sarah would pretend to need to go to the bathroom when
she knew she didn’t need to just to interrupt Maggie Alice in her chores. They never said more words to one another
than were strictly necessary and both would mutter mean things to themselves, just loud enough for the other to
almost hear so one or the other was always hollerin “What did you just say?” And the other would respond, “Nothing,
I didn’t say nothing, you’re imagining it” which exchange would inspire more mutterings and more hollerings. The
sons just pretended not to notice any of this and went about their business.
It all came to an abrupt end one fresh and brilliant autumn day. Maggie Alice in a
pretence of kindness and reconciliation went to great effort to help Sarah take a walk outside and up the hill to
Abraham’s grave. Sarah had long wanted to go outside but had been too proud to ask for anyone’s arm to lean on,
so she was wary when Maggie Alice asked in an unusually cheerful tone if she wouldn’t join her for a walk outside
to see how pretty everything was. As soon as Sarah saw the roses on the bush that had been so long barren she
understood, said not another word, just waited to be escorted back into her darkened room where she lay silently
indifferent to everything until she died not three weeks later.
Neither Robert nor Ishmael knew of the little excursion and their odd friendship
continued unchanged, Robert mourning his mother but not expecting nor receiving any sympathy from anyone. Sarah
had been ninety plus for a while so you couldn’t say she owed anybody anything. Ishmael helped Robert dig a
grave for Sarah beside Abraham and innocently planted a cutting from the first rose bush on the second grave.
Robert asked Ishmael if he would be staying on and Ishmael gave a nod in the direction of his mother who had
kept her distance during the burial. Robert walked over to Maggie Alice, not coming too close and asked in
a loud and formal tone if she would be staying on and she said she reckoned she would if that was alright with
him and he said it was and he would appreciate it if she would continue to do the cooking and cleaning. The
next day Robert walked into Newcastle to the Notary Public and had a document written up giving Ishmael and
Maggie Alice what was called a “life estate” interest in his property meaning they each had a right to live
on that land as long as each lived and no one could put them off, not even Robert himself who didn’t mind
because he liked Ishmael’s company and Maggie Alice’s cooking.
|"Sarah had long wanted to go outside but had been too proud to
ask for anyone’s arm to lean on, so she was wary when Maggie Alice asked in an unusually cheerful tone if she
wouldn’t join her for a walk outside to see how pretty everything was. As soon as Sarah saw the roses on the
bush that had been so long barren she understood..."
As it happened Robert did not have much opportunity to grow fat and happy on Maggie
Alice’s cooking. As soon as she had satisfied herself that her son had a home and that he and his half brother
seemed to be getting along well enough, Maggie Alice decided it was time to see something of the world. She was
past sixty and figured if she didn’t do it soon it would be too late. She’d managed to save up some money over
the years, several hundred dollars in small bills she kept in a cookie tin with pictures of people in a snow
sleigh on it, must’ve come with Christmas cookies some years past. Maggie Alice figured if she had to, she
could always get a waitressing job at a truck stop along the way. Greyhound was offering a special ticket for
$99 that allowed her to make as many stops in as many places as she wanted as long as she finished her travelling
in three months so Maggie Alice set off to see the great vastness of the United States of America. For the next
three months Robert Isaac (as Maggie Alice had taken to calling him) and Ishmael received a postcard once a week
with a picture on it of some scenic wonder including the President’s faces carved into Mount Rushmore. Robert
Isaac’s favourite was of a building all decorated with murals made from coloured corn husks and other grains
called the A-Maizing Corn Palace somewhere in the middle of South Dakota. Ishmael said he‘d like to see a
picture of the ocean. When the picture of the Pacific Ocean came it was nearly three months and both of the
men wondered if Maggie Alice was going to make it back home before her time was up and if she didn’t, if she’d
have enough money for another ticket. They figured her money had to have run out by then. Point of fact, Maggie
Alice’s money had run out and she was working in a coffee shop in San Francisco. She said she liked it so much
she planned to stay a while. She wrote she had a studio apartment in a neighbourhood called The Tenderloin which
fact made Robert Isaac shake his head in apparent disapproval and Ishmael laugh his fool head off.
Maggie Alice had a vague plan of saving up enough money to go back home after a few
months but the months became years, and Robert Isaac and Ishmael sort of got used to doing without her. Whenever
she thought about leaving her little studio apartment that she had all to herself and had decorated with seashells
and calendar pictures of all the places she’d been on her travels, whenever she thought about leaving her little
home, well she just wasn’t ready.
Robert Isaac and Ishmael
Houston Lastwick was a born businessman, always had his eye on the lay of the land,
his thumb on the pulse of the times. Before the cities began to value their history he had a demolition business
tearing down old homes to make way for new office buildings. Some sense caused him to first remove the carved
mantles, coloured glass windows, claw foot bath tubs and fancy gas ranges before he let fly the wrecking ball.
These items he hauled up to his farm where the “junk” filled up the front yard of his home and overflowed into the
abandoned cornfields. When the late sixties and early seventies brought droves of city kids coming in buying up
land and building communes, putting up tipis and yurts and domes and even some plain old houses he made sure he
invited them out to the farm where they discovered his treasure. He traded all that junk for cash, labour, the
occasional beef steer or other junk and retired from the demolition business. No more commuting for Houston.
Just as the junk business began to wane and the hippies either returned to what they
called “civilization” or settled in, the real estate business picked up big-time, and there was Houston ready with
his broker’s license gotten after a two week intensive at the Adult Ed in Blacksburg. In the eighties it was
wealthy stock brokers looking for rural hunting and fishing “camps” to buy and not cheap neither. Commissions
were making Houston a rich man. One fellow from New York had his heart set on Robert’s place. He was fixing to
buy the adjacent spread, a larger and more valuable piece of land with good grazing and two large fancy stone
houses on it but the spring that fed the trout stream running through that land originated on Robert’s place,
deep in a cave in the woods. If Houston could talk Robert into selling his place to the owner of the adjacent
property, well Houston could make double commissions, a sweet deal indeed.
Now that old Harlan Jackson, who owned the neighbouring farm, had been offering
Robert Isaac a paltry sum for his land every year since Sarah had died and every year Robert Isaac turned him
down, politely enough to his face, but then he’d cuss old Harlan Jackson up one side and down the other to
Ishmael who listened gleefully and repeated a few of Robert’s best phrases. That Robert sure could talk,
and Ishmael sure enjoyed listening to him.
Houston knew he had his work cut out for him. Old Harlan would have enjoyed buying
Robert’s land low and selling it high to the broker from New York City but Houston reminded him Robert was no fool
and the buyer might lose interest and find another place in another county if Harlan didn’t stop fooling around and
let Houston handle it. So it was that Houston brought Robert Isaac an offer of five times what he was used to
hearing from Harlan Jackson. Robert’s eyes lit up and Houston got his hopes up for a moment, thinking this was
going to be easier than he expected but it turned out to be surprise not greed that had lit up Robert’s eyes
and Houston drove home disappointed.
Then Houston came back talking to Robert about Ishmael, what would happen to him when
Robert passed on? Just for a hypothetical of course, didn’t Robert feel a responsibility to provide for his brother’s
“He be my older brother in point of fact and I aint going to deprive him of his home
if that is what you mean. This place is our home you know, the both
of us.” And Robert told Houston about
the piece of paper duly notarised that gave Ishmael a life estate interest in the land and explained in detailed
legalize what that meant. So it was Houston’s turn to look surprised because he’d checked out the deed in the
courthouse and found no encumbrances thereon. Robert never had registered the paper in the County Courthouse
and he suddenly worried that he’d said too much and made a mental note to go record that paper as soon as Ishmael
finished some repairs on the old Ford. Robert wasn’t walking miles and miles into towns anymore. Houston was in
the middle of a sentence when Robert bade him a curt good day and turned to go inside the house. He was done
talking to Houston Lastwick.
Houston was about to get back into his car, a late model Caddy, when he saw Ishmael
up on the hill tending his rose bushes and decided a little walk in the evening air would do him some good. He was
panting by the time he reached the grave sites. Ishmael, tenderly and carefully pruning the rose bushes, paid
Houston no mind.
“Nice evening,” said Houston as soon as he could catch his breath. Ishmael said
nothing. He didn’t like this man. He remembered Houston was one of the teenagers used to make fun of Ishmael
when he lived in town with his mother. He figured if he just kept quiet, Houston would get tired of talking to
a brick wall and take his leave.
“Thems sure beautiful roses, aint never seen rose bushes that beautiful.”
Ishmael was proud of his roses. He was tempted to tell Houston that people came from
all over the county to see those roses on a Sunday afternoon. But he wouldn’t speak to Houston and he just kept
carefully pruning, with his eyes on his work.
“Whatchu gonna do when you have to leave them rose bushes? When you have to leave
Houston saw that Ishmael had stopped his pruning and he thought he might even look at
him then but Ishmael kept his eyes down, away from Houston and started into pruning again, the little clicking sounds
loud now in the silence.
“You know your Robert has agreed to sell this place. $250 thousand dollars! Enough
for both of you to buy big houses in town and live a life of leisure the rest of your days!”
“I got a life estate,” Ishmael said more to himself than to Houston but Houston
heard him and pressed on.
“I don’t know nothing about no life estate. Robert never said nothing about no life
Then Houston decided he’d best be getting along. Ishmael never looked at Houston
but his careful pruning had become savage and decapitated roses were flying everywhere.
Robert saw Houston drive away and wondered what he’d been up to for so long and then
he went up the hill to get Ishmael for dinner. Ishmael heard Robert call him, felt him come up close behind him.
He uncoiled himself from his tightly wound rage and plunged the pruning tool into Robert’s chest. Then he ran
wildly sobbing into the woods. When he came back Robert Isaac lay in a pool of blood in a pile of pink and white
roses and nothing Ishmael did would bring him back to life.
Houston testified in the murder trial that Ishmael lacked the knowledge to form a
criminal intent and he also testified that Robert Isaac had agreed to sell his property for $50 thousand in the
Probate hearing. The State took charge of the money and Ishmael. He was moved to the State Mental Hospital.
Ishmael never uttered another word that anyone could understand but he tended the
roses in the hospital gardens. He cried his broken heart out over them and they blossomed like never before or
since. The pink and white bushes at the grave site of old Abraham and Sarah and then Robert Isaac, died out and
the spring that fed the trout stream on Harlan Jackson’s place dried up just like that. The stock broker from
New York was indicted on some securities fraud charges and went to prison so Harlan Jackson paid out $50 thousand
dollars for no good reason but to pay Ishmael’s expenses at the State Hospital. Houston got the one commission
Some folks in the county say they saw Maggie Alice come back to the old place
and that was no ghost. Maggie Alice did make her way back one summer, in the early nineties just after Houston
Lastwick died of some strange affliction. Poor old Maggie Alice found the place deserted and the two old rose
bushes all but dead on the untended graves, three there then. She watered and fed them finding new soil and
old leaves in the forest and loosening the old soil around the roots with some rusty tool she found in a shed.
She carefully pruned away the brittle brown dead stalks and thorns until she found some green left to nurture.
She tended the rose bushes and waited for Robert Isaac or Ishmael to come, she didn’t know which. She couldn’t
read the name on the third gravestone, it being but a charred stump with clumsily carved words now obscured by
the weather. Finally a stranger came, a young man, and told her the truth or that part of it that he, sweet
child, figured she could bear. She got a ride to the State Hospital and visited her son one time but he
ignored her and she left glad that at least he had a roof over his head and three squares a day.
After the first soft snow fall Maggie Alice saw with childlike delight that a rose
had finally blossomed, small and solitary but exquisitely formed with velvety petals as deep a dark red as blood.
Maggie Alice carefully buried the base of the rose bush in piles of autumn leaves well moistened with snow and
left this place for the third and last time in her very long life.
She left for the city but this time not so far, just to Roanoke and she can be found
there to this day, a beggar woman downtown who shouts and carries on. Poor old Maggie Alice, she catches a look of
herself in the big glass windows of a downtown office building and can’t believe it is herself she is seeing. She’s
so old she’s got more hair on her chin than her head. She’s so old she’s wrinkled like one of them apple face dolls.
She’s so old the wart on her nose is older than some baby’s grandparents. She’s so old she’s cold even in summer,
even wrapped up in three men’s overcoats. She’s so old she cries all the time and doesn’t even know it. She’s so
old she can’t no more remember whole long parts of her life and when she does she thinks she may have dreamed them.
She’s so old she’s outlived every damn human being she ever knew well enough to talk to, including her own baby boy
who spent near twenty years in a state institution and was well neigh eighty when he died. She’s so old she knows
that for some folks life is not too short at all, for some folks five minutes might be too long. She’s so old she’s
not afraid of the President and she’ll say anything to anyone right up there with the street preachers, right down
there with the whores. She’s so old she knows some things the bankers and lawyers and secretaries don’t know. Best
listen to this oh so old woman lest there be wisdom hidden in her nonsense.
* * *