Thursday, May 04, 2006

Kin to the Saboteur - Prologue

1883
Halona Ackerman slowly walked from the parlor, past her father’s study and through the dimly lit great room on that dark, humid late-summer night. With grief clamoring for her attention, she tried hard not to cry as she practically crept at a snail’s pace towards her father’s bedroom. Yet with each new footstep, Halona’s resolve cracked more and more like an egg hitting the side of a ceramic bowl.

God, do not let this be the end, Halona’s heart cried even as another powerful surge of grief attacked her soul.

Now she was starting to regret acting so prideful in the face of Doc Binder’s kind offer to accompany her in this dreadful hour. She would have even settled for Marilu’s accompaniment right now.

On second thought, Marilu was fine right where she was in the parlor, being comforted by her daughter. The last thing Halona needed was Marilu’s wails of sorrow breaking her down even more. The way their cook/general helper was crying one would think that Gordon was Marilu’s husband instead of her longtime employer.

Then just as slowly as she’d walked, Halona turned the knob to the first door on the left side of the hallway. The sound of her heartbeat thundering in her ears overshadowed the creak of the thick wooden door as it gave way from the push of her trembling hands. Soon the depressing sight unfolding before Halona’s eyes was enough to cause the iron-willed young woman to act completely out of character. She became a quivering mass of tears.

“Papa, don’t leave me!” Halona sobbed, shedding rare tears as she rushed into the room and threw herself across her father’s gray pajama-clad frame. The large mahogany wood bed barely moved under the added weight due to its sturdiness.

Gordon Ackerman had been bedridden for four months now following a nasty fall from the roof of his barn last spring. Although he survived the spill, he was paralyzed from the waist down because of it. And the last four months of his life had been wreaked with pain from sunup to sundown. Now he wasn’t expected to make it through the night.

“There’s nothing else to be done for me. Doc Binder tried everything he could,” Gordon said calmly as he stroked Halona’s thick straight black hair with his right hand. His expression looked the same way it had from the moment he opened his eyes after that fall and discovered he couldn’t move his lower limbs – peaceful and accepting of his fate.

No doubt Gordon had gotten his heart right with God, and he appeared ready to leave all this constant pain behind. Who could blame him after practically living off of morphine for months?

Halona sensed that her father had been lingering on for her benefit, to make sure that she could successfully oversee the harvest and the running of the farm without him. Yet what would make Gordon linger on longer now that she had proven herself to be well able to handle the family business?

“Now listen up, Halona, and hear me well,” Gordon continued as he patted his only child’s head, prompting her to rise so that he could look into her face. “I love you, daughter. You are better than three sons put together. You carry the weight of two men on this farm and you never complain. And though I always admired those qualities about you, I realize now that I done you wrong by raising you like a boy.”

“No, Papa. You raised me right,” Halona interjected as she sat upright on the edge of the bed, now looking eye to eye with her father.

“Hush, child, and listen,” Gordon said to his strong-willed daughter, who had the beauty of her Indian mother, but the temper of her Irish father. “You were born a girl and I never treated you like one. I’m sorry for that, ‘cause I know what it had to cost you in the man department. But I hope to rectify that before I die. I want you to promise me that you will take some of Mrs. Cable’s etiquette classes this year.”

“But, Papa…”

“Sakari,” Gordon interrupted sharply, calling Halona by her rarely used middle name which meant ‘Sweet’ in her mother’s native language. “Do you want my greedy brother and his two rotten daughters to get this land?” Gordon certainly didn’t. His brother Eamon was too unstable, despite how dignified he always tried to behave.

“Of course not, Papa.” Halona knew that her father’s property holdings stretched far beyond the area where the homestead and farmland was, even beyond the city of Miskito – their current place of residence.

This branch of the Ackermans owned the town’s general store, boarding house, controlling interest in the only Chinese restaurant in town, and the land that one of the local churches sat on. The other branch of Ackermans, the materialistic ones in North Platte, would be dirt poor if Gordon didn’t give them a certain allotment each month for their small ranch two towns northeast of Miskito.

“Then you have to do what it takes to get ready for marriage and children, Halona. I promised your mother on her deathbed that I would keep this land in the Ackerman bloodline and I’ve done that. Yet in order for that to continue, our child, that means you, must bear seed or else the property will transfer to my brother’s descendants upon your death.”

Gordon took a deep breath and tried to breathe through the constant pain in his body before going on. “Do you see why those classes are necessary now? Do you see why I need for you to use them to put the girl back in you?”

Halona reluctantly nodded. “Yeah, Papa.”

“Good. Now do you promise to take and complete those classes?” Gordon asked, smiling beyond his pain.

Halona smiled also and wiped her tears away. She knew she was caught. Her father threw that ‘complete’ clause in there because he knew that she was as smart as a whip and would find some way to get out of taking these etiquette classes.

“I promise to complete them, Papa. But just so you know, whoever I marry better be able to arm wrestle me and win,” Halona replied. She was truly going to miss matching wits with her brilliant father.

Gordon chuckled at his daughter’s addendum. The laughter made his pain ease just a bit more. It was on that jovial note that Halona and her father spent the last five hours of his life, sharing even more laughs together. When Gordon finally gave up the ghost around 3am the next day, it was with a satisfied smile and a look of peace upon his face.

Unfortunately, peace would now be a thing of the past for Halona. Seeing her father take his last breath had hardened something inside of her. As a result, she would never be the same again.

© 2006 Suprina Frazier

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