JOHN AND ROSE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Christopher crouched behind a crate, waiting for a moment when the rail workers would be distracted. He had been riding the rails for over a week now, sneaking aboard freight trains and slowly making his way back to Iowa.
He had gone to California first, just as Mary had hoped, but in spite of her "connections", he hadn’t been able to make a living as an actor, and had soon moved on. He had gone to Oregon after that, doing whatever odd jobs he could find to support himself, but there was a lot of competition for work, and what he could find didn’t pay well—he could rarely afford shelter unless it was a part of his wages. It hadn’t mattered much in the summer, but as winter approached, he found that camping out was becoming more and more difficult—and he was more hungry when it was cold and he couldn’t find work, too.
He knew that his father had survived five years on the road, but economic conditions had been better then, work more plentiful—and his father hadn’t had the option of returning home. Much as Christopher wanted to see the world, he wasn’t used to this life, and by October, thoughts of returning home to Iowa had consumed him. Late in October, he had sneaked aboard a train heading east, and had been slowly making his way back towards Cedar Rapids ever since.
An argument broke out over the best way to move some freight. Crouching low, Christopher dashed out from behind the crate and headed for the rail yard fence. He was halfway up the fence before anyone noticed his presence.
"Hey, you! Come back here!" An angry shout rose from the small group of workers.
Christopher ignored the shout, judging that he could be over the fence before anyone could catch him. He just hoped that none of them recognized him—that could make it uncomfortable for him now that he was back in town.
Reaching the top of the fence, he jumped off the other side, landing with only a slight stumble. Seconds later, he was running down the road, heading in the direction of his old home.
Christopher was dismayed—but not surprised—to find no one home. Leaving his few belongings out of sight under the porch, he washed up quickly at an icy faucet in the yard and headed into town, deciding to stop at Anders Cedar Rapids first, as it was closer than his mother’s movie studio.
When he arrived there, he walked straight in, ignoring the receptionist’s look of distaste at his tattered appearance. She moved to stop him, but then, recognizing him, waved him on, looking at him a bit strangely as he passed by.
When he reached John’s office, he nodded to Mrs. Wilde, whose eyes widened at the sight of him. He grinned, a bit sheepishly. He knew he didn’t look his best right now.
"Uncle John?" He slowly opened the door to John’s office when Mrs. Wilde indicated that he could go in.
John looked up from the paperwork he was doing, both surprised and pleased to see his stepson. "Christopher! What are you doing here? When did you get back into Cedar Rapids?"
Christopher ducked his head, a bit embarrassed. "Well…life is hard out there, so I thought I’d come home for a while…I know that’s not what I thought I’d do, but…"
"Mary wrote to tell us that you’d left Los Angeles. Why didn’t you write to us after that?"
"Well…um…I didn’t think about it much…and I didn’t really have the money for sending a letter anyway…"
John frowned at him. "Surely you could have written at least once. We were worried about you."
Christopher shuffled his feet, looking down. "I’m sorry, Uncle John."
"Not even Mary knew exactly where you’d gone." John sighed. "Well, you’re back now. How did you get here, by the way?"
"Sneaked aboard trains, did you?" John looked pointedly at Christopher’s black eye, an injury received during a scuffle with another man in a boxcar.
"Well…I didn’t have any other way to get here…Oregon is a long way away."
"Oregon! You did travel far."
"Yeah…well…I’m back now. Uh…there wouldn’t happen to be any job openings at Anders, would there?"
"None right now, but I can try to fit you in somewhere."
"Or maybe Mom has something open."
John sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers. "No, I guess you wouldn’t have heard."
"Your mother and grandmother had a falling out late in August, and your grandmother is now living with friends on the other side of town and working here. Your mother and I had some…tensions…between us over that, especially since I offered your grandmother a job instead of letting her try to survive on the street. A few days later, your mother was offered a role in an ‘epic production’ directed by her old friend Jonathan Hinesdale, and she took your brother and sister and went to California. She hasn’t been back since."
Christopher frowned. "When is she supposed to be back?"
"I last spoke to her three days ago. She said she was still filming, but Mary told me that they’d finished almost two weeks ago. Both Rose and Mary are in this picture."
"Maybe Mom had some stuff to finish up that Mary isn’t in."
John shook his head. "Maybe, but I doubt it. I don’t know what she’s doing right now—or if she has any intention of coming back."
"She has to. Her studio is here…she wouldn’t abandon that."
"Miss Markman has been doing an admirable job of running the studio in your mother’s absence."
"So…what does this mean? Are you two getting a divorce?" Christopher was uncomfortable with the idea, in spite of the fact that he had been less than pleased with the idea of John and Rose marrying several years earlier.
"I don’t know, Christopher. I really don’t. I would like her to come home so we can try to work things out, but…"
"What did she and Grandma Ruth fight about, anyway?" Christopher asked. "What was so important about it that she got mad at you for giving Grandma Ruth a job?"
"I don’t know all the details, Christopher. What I do know is that your grandmother overheard some men making threats towards Nadia and a young man she was dating, Sam Blass, and failed to warn them before they went out for one last date before Nadia returned to college. That night, they were attacked by several local members of the Ku Klux Klan—are you familiar with them?"
Christopher nodded. "I met a Klan member in Oregon…he was absolutely certain that his views and what he was doing were right, and nothing would change his mind. Mom would have called him insufferable."
"And possibly a few other choice words. At any rate, the Klan members attacked Nadia and Sam—"
"Why did they attack them?"
"They were offended by the idea of a white woman and a Negro man dating."
"Sam is Negro?"
"Yes—not that it matters to Nadia—or to Sam, for that matter."
Christopher thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "I know that some people violently object to a relationship like that, but…why did they attack Nadia? Didn’t they realize who she was…or more importantly, who you are?"
"They did, and that was why they chose such a sneaky way of going about their attack. They wore their hoods and…I’m not sure what the other part of their costumes are. They look like bed sheets. Whatever they’re called, they use them as a disguise. Anyway, they attacked them as they were walking back here. Nadia managed to bite their ringleader, James Saunders—"
"Mr. Saunders? But he always seemed so quiet!"
"So did Nadia, but she was the one who wound up rescuing Sam."
Christopher gaped at him, astonished at the idea of his quiet, ladylike stepsister rescuing someone from the Klan. "How did she do that?"
"The Klan members took Sam away in a car, and Nadia ran home to get us. Your mother and I got our guns and went looking for Sam, Nadia tagging along. We found him in time to prevent him from being lynched…although we had the help of a mob of local men who detested the Klan for various reasons. Some, I’m sure, were just looking for excitement, but whatever their motivation, they were there when we needed them. At any rate, your mother and I identified Saunders and held him at gunpoint while Nadia managed to climb the tree they were trying to hang Sam from and cut through the rope with a knife she had sneaked out of the house."
"It sounds like something out of a movie."
"Nadia has said that she got the idea from movies, although real life didn’t work nearly as well or as easily…the branch she was sitting on to cut the rope broke, and she was lucky that she didn’t fall on the knife or injure herself in the fall…ironically enough, she landed on Saunders and that broke her fall."
"So she saved Sam’s life."
"Yes. He still works for your mother’s studio."
"Is he an actor?"
"Yes. He’s been in three films now."
Christopher nodded, thinking. "But what does this have to do with Mom and Grandma Ruth falling out?"
"Your mother was very upset that your grandmother hadn’t said anything about what she’d overheard…although she did try to warn Nadia and Sam, after a fashion. Unfortunately, they took it as just more of her rude remarks about them and ignored her. If she had said something openly, they might not have gone out that night, or they would at least have been more careful. But Ruth wasn’t sure that what she’d overheard really meant anything—many men will talk big without ever doing anything—and as she later told me, she didn’t want to be accused of trying to ruin those men’s reputations if what she overheard was just talk."
Christopher nodded; his grandmother had always been concerned with what others thought, unlike his mother, who did as she pleased and usually got away with it, possibly because she was confident. Ruth had never had quite so much confidence.
John went on. "Your mother and grandmother argued…your mother reminded her about another incident, apparently one that happened on the Titanic, in which Ruth let an innocent man be taken away and locked up while the ship was sinking. I don’t really know how much in common these two incidents had, but your mother felt very strongly about it and said that your grandmother hadn’t changed at all, and then demanded that she leave the house. I told Ruth that there would be a job for her if she wanted it—and that was what set your mother off against me."
Christopher frowned. "I know that Mom has some strong views about things, but she isn’t usually cruel like that."
"I don’t know much about the incident that happened on the Titanic, but it seems to have involved both your mother and grandmother…and your mother has never forgotten about it…or forgiven it, apparently."
"Could it have involved my father?"
"I don’t know, Christopher. She didn’t say."
"If it did, then maybe I can talk her into coming back. She shouldn’t have done that to Grandma Ruth, but maybe they can make up. I remember when I first met Grandma Ruth, how overwhelmed she and Mom looked to see each other. They might get mad at each other, but still…I think Mom still cares for her mother."
"She probably does, but she has a damnable amount of pride, as does your grandmother. I’ll be honest, Christopher. I’m worried about your grandmother. She’s not in good health. She’s getting old, and her health was starting to fail when she lived with us. It’s worse now. I don’t know how long she can continue to work, and her friends can’t afford to support her if she isn’t working."
"Couldn’t she get relief from the government?"
"She could, but she won’t. She refuses to take charity."
"But she was always happy to live with us."
"I think she viewed that a little differently. She—"
John was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Mr. Calvert?" Mrs. Wilde opened the door slightly.
"What is it, Mrs. Wilde?"
"The foreman of the baked goods packing line is here…he says it’s about your mother-in-law."
"I’ll be right out." He sighed and headed for the door, Christopher following him. "What’s going on, Mr. Kinley?"
"Mr. Calvert, it’s your mother-in-law…Mrs. DeWitt Bukater collapsed while working a few minutes ago…I’ve already called the doctor."
"Shit." John turned and rushed in the direction of the packing room, Christopher close on his heels.