Men were disappearing in West Delosboro. Not all, certainly, nor even a majority. But news stories in the Delos Sun described the missing as "up-and-coming" men full of potential, and their failure to be found was at least puzzling.
Each time a man disappeared, a high profile search began. In the cities, police checked hospitals and motels. Sometimes nationwide alerts were put out. But in W. Delosboro, there was one motel and no hospital. The town was in the "Last Green Valley," an area of several hundred square miles which overlaps the borders of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and especially northeast Connecticut. On a map, this area is a pale green hole in the yellow sludge that highlights the densely populated "megalopolis," the 500-mile corridor from Washington to Boston.
The W. Delosboro police chief would call out dogs, troops of scouts, volunteers from the three churches in town, and anyone else who showed up, to sweep the countryside, the rolling hills and two remaining farms, the stream beds, along the twisting roads, and even along the meandering riding trails around the lake.
But the most effort was expended on Great Chauminabic, the lake spreading over twenty-seven square miles of water and coves, not including the swampland at many of its margins. Boats with search equipment and divers launched from the town marina.
A few days later the search would become low profile and, eventually, would disappear altogether. What else could they do? The cameras and journalists disappeared and the lovely town returned to normal.
This is a story of one of those men. The bare bones of the tale came to me last night from an old woman, and I must write it down before I forget it. I'm sure some details were filled in by her imagination, and I've also added things I've heard.
As the old woman tells it, a man named Pyramus Koumanelis visited to evaluate a piece of property. He and his partner wanted to expand their auto parts business into the Last Green Valley. Their idea was that the valley was growing and would be the next place to be filled in by yellow on the map of the megalopolis.
It would have been morning when he came over the ridge and wound down from the hills on Route 917. In front of him, the sun was just clearing the pines and oak forests around the sparkling lake. From there, the lake disappears into mist with an exquisite, delicate thin curve like a new moon in spring. The bright sails of the sailing club's morning practice were on the lake and, in the green hillside fields beside the road, the horses grazed.
As a businessman, he probably drove up and down the two main streets in town before he went to look at the property, an empty lot across from one end of a horse field. The field interrupted the white houses built along Lake St with a hundred yards of white fence.
The property is a grassy area beside the water across from the field. He probably parked a few feet down the street in the marina parking lot, which is bordered on one side by a small memorial park with a cannon and obelisk, and on the other by a quaint blacksmith shop and, next to it, the land that interested him.
As he walked around the area he may have looked up to see a tall woman outside the doors of the blacksmith shop. He may have waved, but she likely turned to go back inside. He would think she had not seen him.
He would plan to speak to the owner of the blacksmith forge, his new business neighbor, but he did not on that first day. By noon he arranged to meet an engineer and an excavator on the next morning. But perhaps he drove by the blacksmith shop and saw the person he waved to. She would be shoeing an animal, one of its hoofs held between her knees.
At evening Koumanelis went to the marina shortly after the sun was behind the hills and the mosquitoes had begun to dance above the dark water. The west wind had died and would be gone until after dark, so the sailboats had been lined up in their slips earlier. Families were coming in on their fishing boats. He wanted a chance to talk with some of the residents, their hands full of fishing gear and panfish, and to get a feel for their interests.
Near dark, as he went back to his car he noticed there was a statue he had not seen before in one corner of the little park apart from the obelisk and the cannon.
It was tarnished metal showing a tall woman peering out over the water, her back arched and the wind pulling her long, flowing hair back as she took a step and looked to the sky, into the high morning sun or the rising moon. Her arms and hands swept back behind her; her breasts were held high, her eyes closed. She wore a long gown that the sculptor's wind pressed against her legs and body. Whatever else anyone did here, nature called for attention, and she was celebrating it. She was joyful.
The next morning, he stopped at the crowded coffee shop in the center of town. In front of him, a tall woman was also waiting for service. Her red hair, he thought, was remarkable. She wore it up, but he could tell it was shiny and long. She wore a brown leather jacket that, in faded script, said "Mustang Sally's Equestrian Shop." He thought she was likely the woman he'd seen yesterday.
Other customers said hello to her. "Mustang Sally' turned to tell one customer "I'll have time this afternoon," and made eye contact with the stranger behind her. She was a beautiful woman; she had a refined, aquiline nose and freckles scattered on its bridge and across her cheeks. She looked like a woman of character and joy. Her eyes were intensely green. They sparkled around their darkness, like water. She smiled at him:
"I saw you on the land next door to my shop yesterday." She had noticed his black, wavy hair the day before. Now she could see the deep black of his eyes and the sadness.
"I wondered if you were the same person I saw," he replied. "Do you work at the blacksmith shop?"
"Yes," she said. "I own it and am the farrier."
Like most people, he found her captivating. Her clear green eyes intrigued him. "How beautiful," he thought and asked if she would be in all afternoon.
"Unless you've got a horse in your car," she laughed, "I can't do much for you."
He found it easy to smile with her. "No, I want to talk. I may buy the land next to you."
"Oh, I hope you don't," she blurted. Her tone and attitude suddenly was personal and sincere like she was telling a dear friend she hoped he wouldn't take up suicide. The comment was guileless, but she recovered, "Stop by anyway. I'll be there all afternoon, and if I'm not too busy we'll talk."
"Let me introduce myself," he said. "Most people call me Ramos. That's because they can't remember my given name."
She raised an eyebrow. "Pyramus," he said.
She smiled. "My name is Sulis. And everyone calls me Sally."
Ramos had not taken his eyes from hers. He felt he could see forever in her. Sulis said, "You have beautiful eyes."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," he smiled.
"I would like it to be," she said
An hour later she crossed the street from her forge. She guided a wagon piled with feed and fresh hay pulled by one of the horses. In the field, Ramos counted seventeen that came to her, all young, healthy animals. She touched and handled each of them, and they nuzzled her in affection. He watched her graceful motion and athletic, lithe figure as she reached to stroke manes and backs. When she bent to check a foreleg, her own long legs stretched and their beauty hurt him to watch.
Sulis saw him watching, and she returned his steady gaze as she re-crossed the street. The handsome stranger with his black hair and dark eyes was smiling, and she waved. He stood in the little meadow as if he already owned it. He looked happy. The engineer and excavator were with him.
Around ten o'clock a breeze blew off the lake and made the fence-line trees murmur. In a city it would be hot, noisy, and any trees would struggle in cement pots. But if a branch of Performance Speed could open here, and then in a half dozen little towns in the northeast, his partner could dote on his city stores, and Ramos could tend the new crop. There was no reason they couldn't make money. The horses across the road occasionally whinnied. Even though he was immersed in business, twenty years of city sludge was washing off.
When Ramos asked the engineer about the farrier's, the excavator replied abruptly. "It's not for sale." Then he explained more reasonably. "Sally has turned down lots of offers." Ramos asked what they could tell him about the old shop. They said the forge had been there for more than three generations and was run by Sally's mother in the days when a woman blacksmith was a remarkable thing. The engineer said his mother told him that Sally's grandmother had worked in the shop, too.
She owned the field across the street, too, and the horses. Ramos wondered what she did with them. "Nothing," the engineer said. "She doesn't rent and she won't sell them. I hear she'll sometimes stand them to stud if asked. Sometimes at night she'll go out for a ride."
The excavator added, "All those horses are stallions. There ain't a mare or a gelding in the bunch."
After they left, Ramos ate a sandwich he'd bought at the coffee shop and looked at the water. Sometimes the rush of cars on the street would still, and silence filled the air. When another car came, its noise seemed intrusive. In the city, noise overwhelmed and penetrated to the atomic level. Once, the sound of a horse nickering spread from the blacksmith shop to where Ramos sat. The water lapped at the shoreline near his feet, and the wind made the sound of moving grass and new wildflowers. He felt liberated.
He stood and brushed his pants. The horse she had been tending was loaded into a trailer. He walked to the shop and entered its shade. In summer the building was wide open, but submerged in aromas of smoke and leather and fresh horse urine and hot metal and, nearer the forge, fire sounds. Sulis was bent over mending a saddle, and looked up at him.
No other customers had scheduled. She took him to the deck to sit. Sometimes the horses could be heard even above the cars.
"Your horses are beautiful," he said. "What do you do with them?"
"I've always had horses," she offered as if it were an explanation. When he didn't say anything she said: "I get so much from them, even more than they do from me."
Sulis was smiling as she spoke of them. "I don't do anything with them or to them. They are no more my property than I am theirs." She began to tell him stories about the animals, where she rode them and the beauty of riding in the wind and sun and, especially, in still moonlight.
As the shadow of the shop lengthened and stretched across the water, and the pale intensity of the sun sank back into the afternoon's blue, Sulis continued to talk, looking directly into his eyes and turning her chair so that she could face him. He listened closely. He felt his soul beginning to respond with as much interest as his sex had for her beauty.
Sulis said, "Nature and animals are not just a pleasure for me. They are my life. Of course I make my living with horses. I replace their shoes, take care of hoofs, set up stud service, provide a little simple veterinary work, repair saddles and harnesses, and even wash blankets. But with my own animals it is even simpler. I feed them. They feed me.
"And they like it when we ride. They take me places I've never been ... really, I let them lead. I rarely use reins. And I love the breeze of our motion most of all. Did you see the statue next to the marina?"
"You mean the woman leaning toward the wind and water?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "Riding makes me feel like that. And sailing. I love to sail. In fact I feel like that with nearly everything I see from this place, and nearly everything I touch here.
"Maintaining it is not only a pleasure but also a responsibility." She looked fiercely into his eyes. "I have become part of this place. I owe everything to its beauty.
"That's why I don't want you to buy the meadow. It's not yours, and won't be with money either. It doesn't belong to anyone."
He asked: "Then why don't you buy it and take it off the market?"
"It's only one piece," she said, softly. "I can't buy it all."
Sulis looked at him. She had taken off her shoes and the top layer of shirt that protected her when she was working. Through her t-shirt the muscles in her shoulders were clearly defined. Her arms were feminine and clearly powerful. Her feet were graceful and the nails were coated with red.
"She's my mother, you know," she said.
"What?" he was confused. "Who?"
"The woman. My father made that statue when she was just about my age." Of course. He was surprised he had missed it. "Sulis was her name, too," she said. The resemblance was uncanny, even in smithy clothes. "The people in town call her 'The Lady of the Lake,'" she said. "She protects us."
"Excuse me," he said, and pressed his cell phone. He told his partner he had seen the land and wanted to buy it. "No," he said, "I haven't run numbers, but I'm certain this will work out well."
He watched her. Somehow, he had fallen in love without knowing it. Everything felt right in the world. What he was doing was right. Her eyes were sad and seemed to become deeper, like jade, as he talked. She looked out across the water, her back rigid, her hair movng slightly in the dying breeze. He could see her nipples pressing faintly even through the bra beneath her t-shirt and admired the freckles around her neck and across her nose.
"Look," he said to her, as he hung up. "I know what you mean...." Sulis stood and held her hand up to quiet him.
"You think," she said, "that selling speed parts for sports cars makes you different...."
"How...?" he tried to think how she could know that. Had he mentioned the company in the call?
"I don't know how I know, " she said. "But I do, just as I know you will soon ask to go out with me and then hope to make love."
He flushed at her honesty and accuracy.
"There once was a guy who wanted to buy this land He rode motorcycles and thought that because he liked wind in his face and had chapped lips that he was in touch with nature. He never did understand – what you do is a denial of nature, you even try to deny the laws of physics. Nature is about being together with life, not ripping it apart," and she looked away from him and out where the far shoreline was darkening.
"In here," Sulis gestured at the building behind them, "I take care of nature. I love it with what I do and usually use nothing I can't give back.
"He just disappeared," she said quietly. "You guys do that. Dig things up and then disappear while the trees and grass and mosquitoes touching water go on."
Ramos was listening, mesmerized by her passion as well as by the profile of her, arms on the rail, her breasts curving up, her angular face and red hair flowing to her lower back. He admired the swell of her hips around to the long, denim-covered legs. Her t-shirt had pulled up. He could see the indentation of her navel and the soft swell of her abdomen.
"You are one of the gentle ones," Sulis said. "You really like us, don't you?"
Then: "Come back tomorrow at 1:00. I'll show you what I mean. We'll go sailing. Bring something to eat."
He started to leave. She took a step toward him and bent down. Her face was inches from his; her breath was warm and fresh.
"You don't want my land. That's not what you need," she whispered. Her lips parted and touched his. Sulis could feel him trying not to tremble, and she put her hand on his thigh in reassurance. He held the kiss as long as she would stay. "Nature has her way," she said when he left.
At the motel Ramos went outside and away from the road. It was dark, but he climbed steadily up the hill overlooking the lake and town. The grass swept his legs, a noise like the wind. At the top of the hill, the Milky Way was vivid. He lay on his back to watch. A meteor swept across a couple of inches of his sky. In a few moments, there was another. It seemed the bright stars would swallow him
Perhaps he slept. Later he could recall sounds in a dreamlike memory of a woman on horseback. Waves parted about her. She was far off, but her eyes shone like moonlight on water.
When he walked sideways down the long, steep slope to the motel, the dew was cold on his clothes. He felt energetic. At an area of loose stone on the hill, Ramos slid and fell. His hand landed on a piece of stone as flat and smooth as glass. He picked it up. He looked up, certain he heard the sound of hoofs.
Near where he had been at the top of the hill, a woman rode a white horse in the night. She was dressed in a long flowing gown, and the motion of the animal and the wind lifted her hair, her back was arched and, while the horse moved steadily across the ridge of the hill, her body moved in the slow, dreamlike rhythm of love.
The next afternoon, Ramos was fifteen minutes early. All morning he had been as anxious as for his first date, and he arrived with food in a cooler and a small jewelry box. He'd worn trunks and shoes that would be good for sailing. But first he had stopped at a jeweler's. The jeweler cut a pyramid-shaped piece off the end of the obsidian Ramos had fallen on the night before and then mounted the small piece of black glass on a gold pendant and chain.
The forge was already closed She said they would be able to take their time. As Sulis talked and finished organizing her work space, he watched her eyes spark and felt her smile caress him each time she looked up. She had changed from her farrier clothes and was wearing a pale yellow mesh cover-up. He could see a very little swimsuit in a brighter yellow through it. He was glad his trunks were baggy.
Sulis asked: "Do you sail?"
"No," he said. She checked his shoes and offered sunblock.. "May I see what you brought for us?" she asked.
"Yeah, it's a long way back," he said and opened the cooler. He had fruit and cheese, bread and water, and a magnum of merlot. There were two cheap glasses, too, but Sulis stopped when she came to the little jewelry box on top. Ramos touched her arm with his fingertips, picked up the box and placed it in her hand.
Sulis held the stone up. "It's as dark as your eyes," she said. "Look, you can nearly see through it!"
As she put it around her neck, Ramos told how he found the obsidian. He didn't mention the dream of her on horseback. Her eyes were moist. Sulis stretched up to kiss him and held it.
She taught him to coil lines and cast off. She held the tiller and told him to change from one side of the boat to the other to balance it as she tacked down the lake against the west wind, pointing out natural landmarks. Even with the breeze and the motion of the boat, the sun was hot. They were far from shore and there were few boats. She said: "This is no place to have clothes on. The sun is too nice. Feel free to peel down."
Ramos had felt her presence, intensely, ever since he had seen her. "I don't think that's probably a good idea for me," he said. She laughed.
"Switch places with me, "Sulis said, bringing the boat to face directly into the wind so the sail was luffing. He took the tiller. "Hold it steady into the wind so we don't move so much," she said.
She stood in front of him, just at arm's length, her back to him. Her legs were spread to brace her against the rocking of the boat. "Watch me," she said over her shoulder in a soft, throaty voice.
Sulis looked up to the sky, long hair spreading down her back nearly to her hips. He watched as she crossed her arms in front of her and her fingers lifted the shoulders of her nearly transparent cover-up. She lifted it so the hem of the skirt rose over her tanned, muscular legs slowly. The smooth, hard cheeks of her butt curved up as the dress cleared them and revealed a bright yellow triangle of cloth at the top of her crack.