Orange Dawn - Chapter 9

John Clark Smith
Glen stood on the platform and looked down on the crowd below. His thoughts were not of them or what he would say or do. Nor was he worried about the Guard. He could see his friends down there under the balcony, but they were protected and would be fine. 
From above, the square seemed so small, yet his whole life involved in some way its space and the buildings surrounding it. Even the statue of Ben Sheffield Senior, so near at this height he could almost touch it, pointed to events in the life of his family. 
His eyes were drawn to the courthouse where Philip, his grandfather, had used his life savings to take the State to court for ignoring the Harding Promise. Glen had often listened to his father and grandfather speak of the case. The lawyer had argued that the original pact with the Chief was a legal document that should have given the Hardings the power to stop anyone who could potentially harm the area. 
The State counsel had argued that the Hardings must accommodate everyone who wishes to use the land.
“As long as they care for it,” the Harding counsel said.
“The meaning of ‘care’ is open to interpretation,” the State counsel countered. “Would putting hundreds or thousands out of work be a caring act?”
Philip Harding sat beside his counsel in a state of controlled frenzy. Inside him burned a terrible anger that seemed to have been brewing for centuries in the Harding soul. The stories he had been told and had in turn told his own son Jacob were no more than stories. The natives lived in a restricted area. The number of toxins in land, water and air was growing. If the old Chief could return from the dead, he would damn Hans Harding and all his descendants throughout eternity. 
Philip smashed his hand down on the table. "Can't you see we only want what’s right?! We’re not interested in money! We don’t want power! We want to protect our community, our children.” 
He lowered his head and said quietly, “You’ll all pay for this, I tell you. You doom the whole valley,” And then to his lawyer: "We don't need a judge. We need an army!"

As Glen stood there, with the people looking up at him, the wind trying to push him off the platform, and the sun hotter than it felt on the ground below, he could visualize his grandfather and a little boy—his father—coming out of the courthouse together into the rain. For the rest of Jacob’s life, the cynical grumbling of Philip and the complaining of Jacob’s mother Doris filled the house: two hot irons that refused to cool down. Daily they would rage about the betrayal of the Promise. The river, the school, the design of the downtown, the new homes up in the mountains, the restored barns—eventually there was no improvement or change about which they didn’t protest.
Jacob was too young to understand that his parents were trying to console themselves. They saw the court debacle as an end, a betrayal of the trust that the Chief had given to their family. To Philip the moral and natural fabric of Harding society was disintegrating.

Glen teetered on the platform. Remembering that court case always led to other painful memories, such as the night when his father came home drunk from one of his binges and burst through Glen’s bedroom door, ranting about the time he was taken to the square for ice cream.
Glen looked down upon the bench and imagined his father sitting beside his parents. He could almost see the boy relishing the cone. 
“Now, listen carefully, Jacob,” Doris said, and Philip nodded. “We want you forget the Harding Promise, and not only that, we want you to forget your aboriginal heritage. Forget what the Hardings tried to do for so many generations.”
Jacob looked at them, confused. “But at school I told everyone—”
“Forget it, son,” Philip said. “In fact--”
“Philip, I don’t think we should,” Doris said.
“The boy should know.”
“What is it, Daddy?”
“We’re thinking about changing our name,” Philip said. 
“But we’re Hardings.”
“We also may leave and live somewhere else,” Doris added. 
Jacob had told Glen this ice cream story several times, sober and drunk. 
“First they create this martyr image,” he yelled that night, “then they tell me to discard it. As if I didn’t get enough mud splattered on me as a Harding kid in that Sheffield swamp.”
In the end his parents tried to reel back their words—they didn’t change their name or leave—but that day refused to sink into Jacob’s unconscious. He took his parents' surrender to heart.
Glen shook the image of Jacob as a child from his head, only to face the teenage version. It was early morning in the square, when the police found his father high on cocaine sprawled out on the grass beside his girlfriend.
“I’m a Harding!” he boasted. “You can’t arrest us! This town is named after me!”
“That’s right,” the girl said, falling down in front of the officers. “He’s a legend!”
“What’s your name again?” Jacob asked her.
“Jody.”
Glen heard that name in the wind wherever he went.
“Jody,” Glen spoke out loud under his breath as he stared at the grass far below. A few days after his birth, his mother left town, telling Jacob that she wasn’t ready to settle down. Jacob, in jail for disorderly behavior, didn’t seem to mind. His own parents assumed the care of the new Harding. 
Yet, as Jacob would later explain to Glen, “His eye is on the sparrow.” Two years after Glen’s birth, Jacob crossed over to what some might see as the other extreme. After meeting and marrying a pious Christian woman who ran the local Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, Jacob created his own version of the Christian faith. God, he believed, was giving him permission to preach the Harding Promise and assist in cleansing the people of Harding of their bad habits.
Every weekend the square became a sanctuary for this new Jacob. After working all week in various seasonal jobs, he would proclaim the good news of Jesus, customized to include the Harding Promise.
Glen, often unnoticed because he was so small, stood next to his father, holding on to his coat, watching the shoppers and busy residents crowding the sidewalks. Just as Jacob had listened to Philip rant, Glen now listened to Jacob. 
“You all reside here, but you don’t really live here. If you did, you would care about the air you breathe, and the creatures that live off the land with you. 
“Look what we’ve done. Look at factories spewing out filth! Look at that mountainside stripped of its trees. The land is groaning. Can’t you hear it? Frogs and bees and butterflies? I’ll tell you. It’s no secret. They’re disappearing before our eyes. 
“What do you do all day long? Do you try to learn, to develop skills, to perform acts of kindness? How much have you, sir, created lately? When is the last time you, ma’am, did a good deed?”
Glen gazed down upon that place where the two sidewalks met and saw himself beside his father. How proud he was to be there. He couldn’t wait for each weekend to stand in the heart of the city, to feel the excitement of the crowds and listen to his father’s mighty words. By the time he was teenager, though, he saw the experience in a different way.
“You father is seriously nuts,” a classmate told him at school. “He said my father would have to answer to God for spraying our corn.”
“Yeah,” said another boy. “He used to be a drunk and drug dealer. Now he thinks he can tell Mayor Ben what to do. What an idiot! People scream at him, but he just keeps talking.”
In Glen’s senior year the principal asked him to speak on Founder’s Day. Glen talked for one hour about the Harding history, beginning with Hans in the seventeenth century. He spoke with great conviction and confidence about the Chief, the Harding intermarriages with the natives, and the many times when his family had tried to protect the flora and fauna of the area. 
While the speech proved he knew his heritage, it didn’t change the general opinion about his father.
“Go home, you drunk,” was a common refrain.
“What do you know about God or goodness? You’ve spent more time in jail than you have preaching!”
“Where’s the squaw for your kid, huh?”
Glen worried that someone would go beyond words and try to injure his Dad. On a bench near his spot on the square, he tried to convince his father to retire. 
"Who would stand here for God?” Jacob said. “Who would tell them that love means caretaking?"
"I will, Dad. I know what to say.” 
"That’s brave of you, Glen. You're a good boy and I'm proud of you. But this is my way, not yours." 
"But Dad, you should read the history, show them the facts. Otherwise they’ll make us look foolish."
"Better the foolishness of God than the wisdom of men.”
“But Dad, you’ve done it for years. You’ve made your point.”
“Have I? Do you see any change?”
Glen looked down upon the growing number of people below. Even now he could hear his father’s voice.
“I know what you’re thinking, Glen. You’re thinking: I can’t do this forever. I want you to go to university and find a better way out of this. Your grandfather went to court, and they didn't hear. I preach my faith. Do the people hear me? You must find your own way."
How wonderfully stubborn his father was, Glen thought. Regardless of the weather, Jacob would be there, on his corner. His hair turned gray, but his words and hopes were the same. He never lost his passion or his faith. He never fought back when the people mocked him. 
Then another memory demanded attention: the day Glen’s grandmother Doris came to listen to her son preach. 
Jacob took her tears to mean his sermon had moved her. She knew Jacob was no preacher; he was not even a charismatic person. Jacob was a quiet boy doomed by his father’s bitterness. What she was seeing was the end of the line.
It happened as suddenly as Jacob’s conversion. In the middle of one of his homilies, he suffered a rapid series of strokes. Glen saw his father staring listlessly ahead, his lips moving to unknown words. A few listeners were laughing. Glen took his father’s hand and led him home.
Jacob eventually stopped speaking altogether. Soon he couldn’t swallow. When his mouth closed his heart died. The weight of history had been too heavy a load for his gentle spirit to bear.
A final memory brought tears to Glen’s eyes. He recalled going to the square after his father’s burial, the rain striking his face as he stood in the place where his father had preached for so many years. He gazed up at the tall statue of Ben Sheffield Sr., the mayor who was most responsible for the way Harding had developed. The statue stood on the spot where the pact between the Hardings and the Chief had occurred. Glen thought then as he did now, Why is there no statue of the Chief?
*
When the people saw Glen on the platform, Tosh told us, they wondered if he was going to jump. I too had the same thought when I first saw him through the binoculars.
Now, sitting beside Tosh, Aphra and Peirce high above the city, the same thought recurred.
“So did he…?” I asked.
Tosh was about to answer when Aphra interrupted.
“No,” she said. “He went up there to stop the orange.”

[To be continued ...]

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