By: M. D. McGranahan
(Webpage Sample Chapters)
Copyright © Michael D. McGranahan, aka M.D. McGranahan, 2016
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events, actual places, actual organizations, or actual legal entities is purely coincidental.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Cover by Andrew McGranahan
1 – Eli’s Creek
In the spring of 2014, the Bishara family moved into the town of Eli’s Creek. Rarely did any families move into or out of Eli’s Creek, much less an Arab family like the Bisharas. No one in town had ever seen an Arab in person, and it was thought that they, the Arabs, were shorter and darker than the Bishara family proved to be. This was but the first of many surprises. What church will they go to? Mrs. Svensson wanted to know. Will they be praying at inconvenient times? Will they speak English? Will they go to our schools? Mrs. Svensson’s questions, good ones, it was widely agreed, were being asked by all 2,517 residents of Eli’s Creek. Mrs. Svensson had been the mayor for as long as anyone could remember, but she had recently surrendered the seat to George Hanssen. Most agreed that, had the Bisharas not arrived so early in Mr. Hanssen’s tenure, he might not have made such a mess of it.
That summer, Lilly Knutzen came home from college at Berkeley. She had just finished her freshman year and had decided to declare as a history major when she returned in the fall. For Lilly, history was not the dry bones of old generals and bloody battles and political intrigue, but the threads and cords of family, community, and tradition. History, then, was something akin to a large family gathering in Eli’s Creek. When Lilly first saw Baligh Bishara, she had a strange premonition that her history, and his, would be talked of for generations to come.
Lilly had grown up in Eli’s Creek, and when she left for college, a melancholy had settled over the town. “Who will I talk flowers with?” asked Mrs. Bergendahl. “I just won’t come down for coffee anymore,” declared Mrs. Alquist, who took her breakfast at Tilde’s, where Lilly had waitressed. Mr. Taylor found no motivation to take his daily walk. Mrs. Ericsen refused to come out of her house for two weeks. And so, when Téa Knutzen mentioned that her daughter would return home for the summer, a near-celebration broke out. Spirits lifted. Steps lightened. Tilde Nyberg swore that pastry sales picked up. Anticipation was in the springtime air. However, joy at Lilly’s return was tempered by concerns about foreigners moving into town.
Mayor Hanssen counseled patience when it came to the Arabs. Sadly, his voice did not carry the breadth of experience so vital to the ways of a small-town people. It was Mrs. Svensson’s voice that was usually heard above the noise. Eli’s Creek was the owner of a long and colorful history. Not of great accomplishment or wide recognition, but of quiet stability in the face of modern ideas. The town could be described as a picture postcard: freshly painted houses with white picket fences and green lawns; a lovely downtown with refurbished wooden sidewalks and old shops that had a clean, inviting appearance; landmarks, here and there, of the gold rush era. The town motto was The Past Is Our Future, although for most residents, this translated into the more practical Leave Well Enough Alone. You were born in Eli’s Creek amid friends and family, and you died in Eli’s Creek amid friends and family. Prosperity was more common than not. Tourists browsed at a surfeit of antique shops. A white Christmas was not unheard of. Scandinavian gold miners had arrived 165 years before, and distant relatives still occupied their same homes and churches and shops. Mayor Hanssen’s family tree was, however, somewhat obscure. Hanssen was a Dutch spelling, according to Mrs. Newcombe, who kept up on such matters. “And you know what they say about the Dutch,” she hastened to add. He had moved away rather mysteriously years ago, then returned just as unexpectedly. His election as mayor had been a surprise to some and proof of a conspiracy to others—that is, to Mrs. Newcombe and her friends. Talk of patience with foreigners did not help his standing.
Eli Reignold had joined the rush for California gold in 1848 and arrived along the creek that would soon bear his name sometime in the winter of 1849. It didn’t take long for his rough panning method to find gold, it being plentiful, and frankly, hard to miss—there was a “mother lode” beneath the town that would be discovered years later. The following spring he was impressed by the blanket of green grass that covered the hills and by the abundance of wildlife and game. The oak trees made excellent firewood. The Indians were friendly. From a promontory above the creek, Eli gazed across the great valley and its marshy delta, and on clear days he even thought he could see San Francisco far to the west. He was overcome with the feeling that he had discovered paradise on earth. He was a firm Lutheran but did not think it a sin to consider this place something akin to heaven. He kept his discovery quiet, gold and heaven both, sending word only back home to Sweden and telling his brothers and sisters and cousins and friends to come and join in the bounty. And come they did. Soon the town of Eli’s Creek sprouted up. The Scandinavians stuck together and discouraged others from putting down roots in their town. The Dutch and Italians, and especially the Irish, found themselves outcasts and concluded that it was easier in the end to simply move on to another mining camp rather than contend with Viking hostilities.
Soon after arriving in Eli’s Creek, Omar Bishara, with money that undoubtedly came from Arabian oil wells or shady Middle Eastern real estate trading, moved to enter the local real estate market—inspecting property, asking questions, and drawing sideways glances from concerned residents. Gossip held that he intended to build a compound to house his many wives, who would surely be arriving shortly after the close of escrow. The mayor reported he had spoken at length with the real estate agent, and he, Mr. Hanssen, could assure everyone that the Bisharas had no such intentions. But the fears and prejudices of the common man are not so easily mollified by a short-term, itinerant mayor of dubious Scandinavian heritage.
2 - Tilde’s Lefsa
Lilly Knutzen could not have imagined the reception that awaited her at Tilde’s Lefsa on Saturday morning. She had just arrived home the night before, and her mother had suggested that the ladies would very much appreciate her dropping in at the pastry shop. They didn’t serve lefsa much anymore at Tilde’s, it being rather old fashioned even by Eli’s Creek standards. Lilly had always intended to learn the secrets of the doughy treat and had thought to herself on the drive home that she might impose upon Mrs. Nyberg this summer to teach her the dying art. Lefsa was, to Lilly, part of the history of Eli’s Creek, thus something to be given serious consideration. She loved everything about lefsa and the pastry shop where it was made. Like all the old buildings in town, it had thick, sturdy walls constructed of either creek cobbles or brick covered by a veneer of whitewashed plaster. These walls in turn supported high ceilings that made for a bright, airy atmosphere conducive to gathering and visiting. They were welcoming and substantial, the buildings of Eli’s Creek. Made to last. They had been here for her, and she knew they would be here for her children.
A cheer went up when the bell on the door jingled and Lilly’s bright face appeared. It wasn’t so much a cheer as a din of excited chatter and hugs and tears of joy.
“What did you do to your hair?”
“I’m growing it out. Do you like it?”
“You look thin. What are you eating?”
“Dorm food. It’s truly awful.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Are there a lot of protests there in Berkeley?”
“Quite a few.”
“You look sickly. Have you been ill?”
“I think she looks radiant.”
“So do I.”
“It’s delightful to see you, child.”
“Thank you. I missed you all.”
Lilly had always been tall and thin, and so it was odd that the ladies would fret over her eating habits. Someday, perhaps, she would be plump, but at nineteen she could still eat anything and remain thin as an egret. She was gangly, to be honest. A bit awkward. Her hands, and especially her fingers, were long and tapered, with nails that rarely saw polish. Her hands would be works of art except that she carried her tension there, often pressing her thumb to her middle fingers, rubbing a little as she worried over some problem. She adored the dance floor but couldn’t dance, and onlookers could only grin at the sight of this girl so completely unaffected, so blissful in her spasms of joy. Her awkwardness was just another endearing quality to those who loved her, keeping her overlooked by the crude world beyond Eli’s Creek. But someday the egret would take wing, and the world would sigh.
Towards the rear of the shop, at the table in the corner, a boy stood up. He was tall, blond, and big boned, and when he walked up to Lilly, he did so with his shoulders square and his back straight. His cheeks were ruddy, like those of many boys who are fair and have very little beard.
“Hi, Lilly,” he said.
“Scott!” she said. “It’s so good to see you. How have you been?”
They caught each other up on life since high school, where they had been sweethearts from sophomore year on. After graduation, he had gone to work in the gold mine, but the price of gold had been falling, and now the mine was set to close. Everyone had been laid off. He was working at a grocery store over in Mason, hoping to get into the butcher department. There was always work for butchers. The future was bright or would be, assuming things fell into place. He had dated Lisa Simon, but that hadn’t gone well, and now he was “hanging out” with his guy friends. He had great friends; he rattled off their names—the roster of the football team, mostly. They went to the gun range in the afternoons, and life was good. Life is good and the future bright! thought Lilly, but in fact, he looked unhappy beneath the bravado, and she wondered what had happened with Lisa. Lisa had always had her eye on Scott in high school. A sweet girl, Lisa.
The ladies drew her away from Scott, who retreated to the corner, and they pried for more information of a personal nature. Was her dorm co-ed? they wanted to know, tittering. Did she like her roommate? In the midst of the celebration/inquisition, the door jingled. Heads turned. The room grew quiet. The dark-skinned face of a young man peered through the door. Lilly looked across the pastry shop and saw the most beautiful face she had ever seen. Perfectly arched brows over dark, piercing eyes; skin so smooth it could have been a baby’s; thick, luxurious black hair. She had seen beautiful faces at Berkeley, and she asked herself later if it was the shock of seeing such a face there at Tilde’s, so completely unexpected, so exotic. No, she thought, it was truly the most beautiful face she had ever seen. His eyes could feel her stare across the pastry shop, and he stared back. The quiet of the room became unbearable.
“Who was that?” Lilly asked Tilde, after the ladies had gone home.
“The Arab boy,” she answered. “Didn’t your mother tell you about the Middle Eastern family that moved in on Taylor Street?”
“No, she didn’t.”
“Well, all I can say is, it’s a good thing Mrs. Newcombe isn’t here. She goes on and on about it. The family has plans to buy real estate, and she’s dead-set against it. You’d think they were going to build a mosque or something. Actually, quite a few folks are upset and worried.”
“Why? Why are they worried?”
“Well, dear, you know, our families have been here for some seven or eight generations, and this town’s been pretty much the same the whole time. Folks would just as soon it stay this way for another seven or eight generations.”
“But change is coming, Tilde.”
“I’m afraid you’re right, child. Although you must admit, we’ve had a lovely time of it up to now.”