Friday, December 29, 2017

The First Women of Lily Dale: Spiritualists, Suffragists and Psychic Healers

In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the advent of Spiritualism gave women a voice and returned to them the power to heal during a time when medical education was a privilege enjoyed only by men.  The history of the Modern Spiritualist community of Lily Dale, New York emerges in book three of the Orphans and Inmates series, The Seer and the Scholar,  during the mid nineteenth century.  The ongoing story has opened the door for the introduction of new characters with psychic abilities as the series moved forward, exploring the relationship between highly developed inner senses and insanity throughout A Lifetime Again (book four). The most recent addition to the series, The Girl on the Shore, weaves characteristics from some of the strongest women of the early Modern Spiritualist movement as it takes us on a journey from the banks of Cassadaga Lake in New York, to the shores of a remote island on the west coast of Ireland.
In the United States, the early decades of the Industrial Revolution ushered in a growing wealthy class.  Unfortunately, their affluence did not shield them from the high mortality associated with acute infectious disease and war, which characterized the period.  With the chores of the household and the raising of children left in the hands of servants, many upper class women had considerable time to dwell on their losses.  It is understandable how the idea of being able to communicate with the spirit world would appeal to these women, who did not have the mundane tasks of everyday life to distract them from their tragedies. 

The Marion Skidmore Library, Lily Dale, New York.  Photo courtesy of Rosanne L. Higgins

One such woman is Marion Skidmore.  She was the wife of a builder and the daughter of William Johnson, one of the first Mesmerists in Laona, New York, where the earliest of the Free Thinkers in the state gathered.  Marion lost her only two children, one in infancy and the other as a young woman.  After the death of her older daughter, Marion and her husband, Thomas J. Skidmore, became very focused on Spiritualism.  They were among the original stockholders of the Cassadaga Lake Free Association, the organization that gave rise to what is now the Lily Dale Assembly.  What started out as weekly demonstrations of mesmerism in a small church in Laona evolved into week long camp sessions at nearby Cassadaga lake, where like-minded people came to practice and discuss other forms of mediumship. 
Marion Skidmore poured all the love she could not bestow on her daughters into the Spiritualist community in Cassadaga.  Under her influence and guidance, the lakeside retreat transitioned from a summer camp to a community of year-round residents.  She actively participated in every aspect of its growth from the planting of flowers and trees to the establishment of a public library and school.  She was also organizer and President of the Cassadaga Women’s Suffrage Club and was an officer in the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club.  In 1894 she represented both clubs in Washington D.C. at the National Women’s Suffrage Association conference.
Early Spiritualists called themselves Free Thinkers, and the members of the Cassadaga Lake Free Association dedicated their camp to free speech, free thought and free investigation.  Both men and women believed in the enfranchisement of women.  This kind of progressive thinking was unusual for the time period.  The woman’s suffrage movement found a home in Lily Dale, and hosted Women’s Days each year which attracted suffragists from all over the country.  Leaders in the movement including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Elizabeth Lowe Watson visited there often to participate in these events.  These women devoted their lives to woman’s suffrage, the Temperance movement and the abolition of slavery and found thousands of like-minded women warriors in Lily Dale. Elizabeth Lowe Watson gave a speech in June of 1880, opening day, dedicating the grounds to free thought, free speech, and free investigation for all time.

Women's Suffrage Tent, Lily Dale, NY, ca. 1893.  
Marion Skidmore holding the banner indicating
 that two states had given women the right to vote. 
 Susan B. Anthony seated in the middle row, third from the right.  
Courtesy of the Lily Dale Museum.

  Many women were also fighting to reclaim their role as healers during a time when the male dominated field of modern medicine was emerging.  Antoinette Matteson was a clairvoyant healer who could diagnose and treat illness with the help of her Native American Spirit guide.  Matteson had a very successful practice in Buffalo and invested much of her wealth in real estate.  In addition to her residence on North Division Street in Buffalo, she had a cottage in Lily Dale.  Matteson was a strong willed woman who locked horns with the medical establishment often.  She was arrested for practicing medicine without a license, and occasionally brought suit against those who did not pay her for the services she provided.  She also had adversarial relationships with her own children.  Matteson’s daughter, Martha Caul, a university trained medical doctor, tried to have her mother declared insane for fear that Matteson was allowing her other daughter, Nellie Whitcomb, to squander her mother’s considerable estate.  Matteson was able to avoid the supoena to appear before a judge by fleeing Buffalo.  Frustrated, her daughter dropped the charges.

Antoinette Matteson.  From The Occult Family Physician and Botanic Guide to Healing
available at the Marion H. Skidmore Library, Lily Dale, New York.

The Orphans and Inmates series depicts strong female characters during a time when most women were considered a liability and were passed directly from their fathers to their husbands without any say in the matter.  The women of Lily Dale are a refreshing change from the nineteenth century norm and you are likely to recognize many of their extraordinary attributes in the women of The Girl on the Shore!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A grave undertaking in A Whisper of Bones

             Ciara stood in the pouring rain vigorously rubbing her hands along her cold and wet arms to keep warm.  Two equally drenched and shivering young men removed the casket from the wagon and tried to ease it into the muddy hole they had dug by the light of a single lantern. It was just dawn on Saturday morning and the poor lads could barely see what they were doing.  It was difficult to maneuver the large wooden box on the slick ground and the men were not timid about expressing their annoyance at having to bury the body so soon after death.
            “We've gone and dug the grave in the middle of the night.  Can we no’ save the burial until after the storm has passed?”  Thomas Mulligan, the larger of the two, complained after he had lost his footing on the wet ground for the second time and nearly dropped the casket.
            “No!”  Ciara's comment was punctuated by roar of thunder so well timed, it made both men shudder.  “She'll have a decent burial, or at least what passes for decent 'round here.  She was a good woman and deserves as much.  Quit yer wailin’ and get on with it!” and then another well timed burst of thunder, this time with lightning.  If the men were back in the old country they would surely think her a witch.  Ciara pulled her soggy shawl around her shoulders as she and Michael moved under the large oak tree thinking its few remaining leaves would provide some sort of shelter from the storm.
            As the wind picked up, driving the rain directly into their eyes, the desire to get out of the weather overrode any fear of Ciara Nolan's wrath, supernatural or not.  “Mr. Proctor says three days in the death house before they’re put in the ground, just in case one of these poor sod's ‘as got someone willin' to pay for a proper burial.”  Joseph Buxton argued hoping the mention of the Poorhouse Keeper's name would change her mind. “Mr. Proctor will no’ be pleased we didn’t wait,” Buxton continued.
            More likely he was not pleased that the general good health of the inmates and the scrutiny of the Board had left him with precious few poor souls he could sell to the medical college, Ciara thought.  “Never ye mind, Mr. Proctor,” she said.  “He'll be none the wiser unless one of you tells him.”  At present he was at his family hunting lodge in Williamsville. When he returned on Monday, everyone would have forgotten about this poor woman. “To be sure he'll make you dig her up so that she can wait her few days in the death house.” Ciara placed special emphasis on the word wait to indicate to the two men that she knew full well there would be no period of waiting.  The body would be dug up and sold if Proctor learned of her death.
            The men nodded to each other as they took a minute to consider the miserable task of slogging through the mud and clay to exhume her body, which would be harder to take out of the grave than it was to put in, not to mention that, should they be caught, they’d likely be thrown in jail. “He'll no’ hear about it from us, but should he notice this,” Mulligan gestured toward the swamp that had been created by digging a grave in the pouring rain, “I'll be tellin' him 'twas you stood out here and forced us to do it.”

                “The more you should hope he doesn’t,” she replied. “For if I must, I will explain my reasons to Mr. Pratt and the Board of Directors, and where will ye come out of all this if I do?”  While both Mulligan and Buxton lacked any formal education, they were smart enough to know that William Proctor would likely deny any wrong doing and point the finger at them.  Without another word, the men completed their task.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Revisiting the beginning with a wee bit from Orphans and Inmates.

Cover art for Orphans and Inmates by

May 3rd, 1835
            With two feet safely on land again after months at sea, Ciara Sloane walked slowly toward the city of Buffalo’s bustling Central Wharf.  She had taken each of her younger sisters by the hand as much to keep them close by in the unfamiliar place as to anchor herself and dispel that feeling of the ground moving beneath her feet as she became accustomed to walking on land again.  The late afternoon sun shining down did little to ease her disorientation.  At the age of seventeen she was in a strange place and now the sole guardian of her two younger sisters, Patricia and Martha. Stunned at the events of the last few months she had no choice but to keep moving forward.
The Commercial Slip at the Central Wharf in Buffalo, New York. 
Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins
            In March she had boarded the ship in Galway with her three younger sisters and her parents headed for America.  Ciara’s parents, Mary and Ian Sloane, were eager to start a new life in Buffalo, New York.  It was arranged for Ian to work at his cousin's printing business, a vastly different life than that of the farmer he’d been.  It was a chance to learn a trade and maybe open his own shop one day. Ciara would help her mother keep house and look after her younger sisters until such time as a suitable husband could be found.   In America, her parents had hoped, there would be no shortage of potential suitors.  While prepared for this eventuality, Ciara was completely unprepared for what happened next.
Galway Bay, Ireland. Photo by Robert J. Higgins
           The White Heather Princess, the ship on which they’d sailed, fell victim to typhus fever.  It was called “ship fever” for its common occurrence on ocean voyages, where quarters were typically cramped and sanitation was lacking.  This was an ideal breeding ground for typhus, an acute infection spread by lice, the constant, if unwanted, companions of the rodents that managed to find their way on board ships.  At the height of the outbreak what few healthy adult passengers remained sidestepped over bodies as they carefully made their way from one patient to another trying to ease the discomfort from high fever and severe headache.  Seldom seeing daylight, Ciara and her parents spent most of their time below deck, clutching a candle in one hand and a small bucket of fresh water in the other as they made their way from hammock to hammock tending the sick.   A week into the outbreak Ciara’s youngest sister, Katherine, fell ill.  At just two years old, the fever attacked wee Katie with a vengeance.  She was dead within two days. Ciara barely had time to register the loss of her baby sister when symptoms appeared in both her parents, keeping her in a constant state of motion.  Between tending the sick and looking after her remaining two sisters, she hardly registered the passing of each day.

Farm house on Inis Mór, Ireland.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
            When they finally reached New York, the White Heather Princess was quarantined by the harbor master.  No one left the ship until the fever had run its course.  Nearly all passenger belongings were burned, standard procedure to ensure the sickness was eradicated before passengers were finally permitted to disembark.  The Sloane girls had only the clothes on their back and a silver pocket watch that had belonged to their father.  Shortly after her father took sick he told Ciara to retrieve the watch and keep it in the pocket sewn on the inside of her skirt.  The small purse of coin their father always carried was stolen before he, their mother and their baby sister were unceremoniously buried at sea.
          Upon retrieving the pocket watch, Ciara went through their belongings and removed their remaining valuables before they were rummaged through and burned by what was left of the crew. Most of the “valuables” had personal rather than monetary value.  Tears rolled silently down her face as she removed her father’s clay pipe from the pocket of his jacket.  Clinging to it was the faint, sweet smell of pipe tobacco which reminded her of that quiet time right after supper when the family sat around the hearth.  Her father would smoke his pipe while her mother read from the Bible when Ciara was just a child.  As she got older, Ciara would read passages herself and she and her mother would teach the younger girls to read.
Irish cottage.  Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins
            She unwrapped a small linen cloth to find her mother’s hair combs and a rosary made of tiny wooden beads.  The hair combs had been carved by her father from wood, a present given on their wedding day.  She ran her fingers across the tiny roses etched on the top of the combs. Her mother only wore those on special occasions.  The rosary had been a gift from her grandparents when her mother was a girl.  She gave the hair combs to Patricia and the rosary to Martha so that each would have something of their mother’s to remember her by.  She kept her father’s pipe.

          The tale of the Sloane sisters continues in A Whisper of Bones, The Seer and the Scholar and A Lifetime Again.  The fifth book in the series, The Girl on the Shore, will be available on December 14th.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A wee bit from book five of the Orphans and Inmates series: The Girl on the Shore

Patricia’s comment was on Martha’s mind for the rest of the afternoon.  That voyage across the Atlantic over four decades ago had forever changed their lives.  Martha was so young when the family left their small village on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Isles of Aran, and there was little she remembered of the journey or why they had left in the first place.  Sitting in the back room with their cups of tea, she asked, “Do either of ye remember much of Inis Mór?”
Ciara looked surprised to hear the question.  Patricia took a sip of her tea and placed the cup back on the saucer before answering.  “If I close my eyes, I can see the wee cottage we lived in plain as day.  Do ye recall old Dearg?”
Nenagh, County Tipperary.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
Martha closed her eyes, searching deep in her subconscious for an image and then seeing clearly the shaggy red horse.  “Aye, I think I do!  He had long whiskers, I recall, and they tickled my hand.”  Her expression changed as another less pleasant memory of the horse came to her.  “Funny, now that ye mention him, I remember the sound of old Dearg crossing the bridge on the day we left the island.  I had my head tucked under ma’s arm the whole time, so I couldn’t see a thing, but I remember the sound of the hoofbeats changed once he got to the bridge, and I knew we’d soon be at cousin Patrick’s and that he’d take us across the sea to Galway.” 
A flash of memory showed her the reason Martha had her head buried beneath her mother’s arm.  An old woman had approached the wagon as it lumbered up to the bridge, yelling something, but Martha could not remember what.  The woman had frightened her as did her mother’s reaction to draw Martha closer.  She quickly pushed the unpleasant recollection aside, not wanting to cast a shadow on their memories of home.   “’Tis odd, I’d never thought of that day until now.”

Inis Mór, Aran Islands.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
“Well, ye’d hardly remember it, would ye?   I was seven and I recall very little of our life on the island.”  Patricia’s thoughts wandered out loud as she struggled to bring back another small detail of her childhood in Ireland.  She smiled, and almost popped out of her chair at the sheer joy of the memory she recalled.  “Oh, I remember our wee cottage was full to burstin’ and cousin Patrick had a penny whistle.  There was music, and everyone was dancin’.”
Ciara had been silent until now.  She smiled, recalling the occasion.  “That’d ‘ave been at the new year.”  She thought for a moment before continuing.  “You were five, I think, and Martha was just two.  ‘Twas Da who gave Patrick that penny whistle.  He got it in Galway.” Ciara’s voice dropped off, and it appeared as though she, too, was lost in the memory.
Inis Mór, Aran Islands.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
“Surely ye must remember how it was before we left?” Martha asked her oldest sister.  Ciara was seventeen when they left Inis Mór and had become the guardian of her sisters after the death of their parents.
Occupied with her own thoughts, it appeared that Ciara had not heard the question, so it surprised Martha when she spoke.  “No, not really.  Just bits here and there, like Patricia.”  She was quiet for a moment, but then felt the need to addend her comment.  “We had a time of it aboard the ship, if ye recall, and I’ve not had a moment since to spare many thoughts for the old country.” 

She didn’t quite sound defensive, but moved to redirect the conversation lest her sisters pick up on her anxiety.  “Well, that’s enough talk of the past.”  Turning to Martha, she asked, “Can ye stay for a while, sister?  I’ve got Patricia until month’s end and I’d dearly love to have ye here as well.”
Inis Mór, Aran Islands.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
The Girl on the Shore will be released on Thursday, December 14 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York (see website for details).  The book will also be available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Locally, print copies can be purchased at The Antique Lamp Company, The Buffalo History Museum, The Museum of Disability History, Talking Leaves Bookstore, Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe, Parker Pharmacy, and The Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Field research on Inis Mór

Cottage on Inis Mór.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
     The fifth installment of the Orphans and Inmates series takes our characters, both past and present, back to Ireland.  If you are familiar with the story, the Sloane family made their way to Buffalo, New York from Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland.  The three islands that make up Aran, Inis Oírr, Inis Meáin, and Inis Mór are a microcosm of traditional Gaelic culture not found elsewhere in the country.  I was moved by the haunting images of the islands I had seen in the book Images of Aran: Photographs by Father Brown, 1925 & 1938,  By E.E. O'Donnell.  After a bit of research, I thought Inis Mór was a great place for my characters to start their journey.  Until now, I had written very little about the small island.  It was mentioned in Orphans and Inmates as the birth place of the Sloane sisters, with some brief references to what their lives were like there.  In the fifth book of the series, a good portion of the story will take place there.  More research was needed.  

     I was able to talk my husband into a brief trip to Ireland in May so that I could visit Inis Mór and get a feel for what life was like there.  As indie authors, our research budgets are often tight and may not include travel, particularly to another country.  Having said that, my advice to my friends and colleagues is:  Go there anyway!  Go where your story takes place, however you can get there.  It is worth the time, the expense and the sacrifice of whatever you had to pass up to get there.

Inis Mór.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins

     There is no better way to get a feel for how your characters will behave in any particular setting than going there yourself.  From the minute our ferry left the dock at Doolin, I knew my decision to scrape and save, put off roof repairs and skimp on groceries, had been worth it.  As we moved out on the Wild Atlantic, we were tossed about like a beach ball, although the vessel was substantial and held over fifty people.  Passengers sat in their seats, green in the gills and white knuckles clenched on the benches in front of them.  My mind went back to the nineteenth century, and to the fishermen of Aran.  Those brave men made their living using only their currachs, small wood frame boats covered by cow hides.  Such boats were keel-less and rudder-less, relying on two to four men with narrow oars to negotiate the same choppy seas.  The necessity to feed their families required that these men make such a treacherous journey often.  My characters speak of the harsh life on the islands, now I have a sense of just how difficult it could have been.

Climbing the road to the ruins of Dún Árainn.  Photo by Robert Higgins

     Inis Mór is a bit less than twelve square miles, with a population of about 900 people.  We could not bring a car on the island, but there were a few options for exploring the area.  There were bicycles for rent but we chose a horse drawn cart which had the advantage of a native tour guide.   We also spent time walking on some of the narrower and steeper roads.  These methods of transportation gave me the opportunity to move around the island at the same pace that my characters from the nineteenth century would have and to get a feel for the clip clop of hooves on hard packed earthen roads (although some of them were paved).  

Our guide, Andy, and Johnny Cash.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
       Exploring on foot also gave me the opportunity to explore the flora and fauna of the island up close.  In addition to the purple clover, forget-me-nots, butter cups and ferns, there was bleeding heart, yarrow, hawthorn, and numerous other plants I’m in the process of trying to identify, cascading down the stone walls, dotting the pastures, or creeping around fallen headstones.  There were beautiful Connemara ponies for riding, sturdy Tinker’s horses for work, shaggy donkeys who stood in judgement as we passed by, and a rather large herd of goats.  Surprisingly there were few sheep and even fewer dogs to be seen.

Photo by Robert J. Higgins

Photo by Robert J. Higgins
Photo by Robert J. Higgins

Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins

     The most important part of the trip for me was being able to see so much of the rugged landscape.  Essentially, Inis Mór is a giant rock protruding out of the sea.  Stone ruins speak to centuries of occupation, yet give the feel of little cultural change over time.  There were/are no wooded areas, and the few trees have been contorted by the harsh wind. Every field on the island was man made. That was something I had read, but did not appreciate until I saw it for myself.  When you look across the landscape at the hundreds of stone walls that divide up each pasture and realize that each wall is made from the limestone that was dug out of the earth by hand and each field was created by hauling in crushed rock, sand, seaweed and whatever else would support the growth of rye grass, cabbages, carrots and potatoes, it is awe inspiring.  Our guide described it as slave labor, yet each man was working to make a small part of the island his own.  Being able to experience this inhospitable landscape gave me a sense of the true grit my characters possessed.  That same grit allowed three orphaned children to survive the journey to America and months in the almshouse.  It would serve them well as they met the challenges that life in the burgeoning city of Buffalo set before them and will help them in this next book to untangle the secrets of their past.

Photo by Robert J. Higgins
Photo by Robert J. Higgins

Dún Árainn.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
Photo by Robert J. Higgins

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Whispers across the Wild Atlantic Way

Standing on the Cliffs of Moher looking over the wild Atlantic Ocean, I could see Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, hiding in the mist.  Those of you who follow the Orphans and Inmates series may recall that the Sloane sisters began their lives in a small village on that very island.  

      What a journey it would have been, traveling to America.  As I looked out over the ocean, I imagined a shaggy pony pulling Ian and Mary Sloane, their daughters, and the few possessions they were able to bring with them in a cart that lumbered over the rocky terrain.  The four girls, Ciara, Patricia, Martha and wee Katie huddled together against the unforgiving wind.  It didn't take long for them to reach the shore, where a small currach would take them across the rough sea.  In Galway they would seek passage to America.

     The fear and anticipation was palpable as I watched the waves rage against the cliffs.  It was a dangerous crossing just to get to Galway.  I realized it was not the angry sea that frightened them.  Everything they knew was behind them and the path forward was filled with uncertainty.  It became evident to me that the Sloane family had not undertaken the perilous voyage in search of a better life.  They were fleeing Inis Mor.

     What secrets does this ancient island keep?  Beneath the harsh December wind was the low moan of Celtic spirits beckoning me to come and find out for myself.  Is there a fifth book in the Orphans and Inmates series?  The answer lies on Inis Mor.  Of that we can be sure.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Revelations on the river from A Lifetime Again

Alternative cover concept by Robert J. Higgins
      Déjà vu.  Literally translated, the term means "already seen", having the strong sensation that a current event or experience has happened before.  In this excerpt from the fourth installment of the Orphans and Inmates series, A Lifetime Again, Maude Travers experiences intense déjà vu.  Her feelings actually conjure flashbacks of an ominous past, leaving Maude both unsettled and intrigued.

From Chapter Three of A Lifetime Again...

     Maude and Don wasted no time after their foil-wrapped breakfast renting kayaks, and spent a lovely afternoon paddling around what had once been called Big Buffalo Creek, now known as the Buffalo River.  They made their way along the river and around the grain elevators.  Prior to this ingenious invention perfected by Joseph Dart, surplus grain traveled from the Midwest on ships large enough to withstand the tempestuous weather the Great Lakes could wreak.  Upon its arrival in Buffalo, the grain would be unloaded by hand, an arduous chore taken on largely by Irish immigrants.  They reloaded it onto the smaller canal boats in order to continue its journey along the Erie Canal to the east coast.  With the invention of the grain elevator, ships could be unloaded by steam-powered conveyor belt, at the rate of 1,000 bushels per hour, thus making Buffalo the largest grain port in the world.
            Paddling along a bend in the river, Maude’s attention was drawn across a narrow stretch of land separating the river from the larger body of Lake Erie, toward one of the lakeside bars which had changed hands recently and was closed for renovations.  Although she could not see the actual bar, she felt compelled to look out toward it anyway, squinting for better focus. A large wake rocked the kayak and she looked around to find its source, but saw nobody on the water, not even Don, who had previously been paddling just behind her.  
Bringing her attention back toward the lakeside bar, she could not believe her own eyes.  Instead of the brick and iron skeletons of Buffalo’s industrial past that had just been in her line of sight, she now saw almost nothing.  Instead, there were only two sets of railroad tracks that merged at the bend in Big Buffalo Creek.  The details were so vivid, but impossible because those particular tracks were long gone.  It was such a quick flashback, but it brought a sense of foreboding that made her stop paddling and stare up at the spot where she was sure the railroad tracks had been.
            Don paddled up behind her.  “Ready to call it a day?”
            Maude blinked and looked again to find that the vision had passed and she was once again looking at the modern landscape.  “Yeah, I’m ready.”  She paddled alongside Don, but glanced behind her one last time.  “Hey, you know that place by the marina that’s under renovation?”  He nodded and she continued speaking.  “Wouldn’t it be just over there?”  She pointed across the industrial ghost town on the narrow stretch of land between the river and the lake.
            Don looked behind him, considering the question.  “Yeah, that looks about right.  Why?”
            “Oh, I don’t know. I was thinking when it finally opens maybe we could give date night one more try.”  Her smile was strained and she knew it did not fool him.
“Sure, but I don’t think they will be reopening any time soon.”  He noticed she hadn’t taken her attention away from that spot.  “Everything okay?”  
            Now that he was focused in that direction, the spot just out of their line of sight on the shore of the lake held his fascination too.  Don continued to look in the direction of the marina as if he was trying to remember something important, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.  The wind came up behind him and he felt a chill run down his spine.  With a shiver, he turned his attention back to Maude.  “C’mon, let’s head back.”
             “Good idea.”  Maude decided it was too nice a day for overthinking and paddled away.  By now, there were other kayaks, water bikes and motor boats around them and it became necessary to pay close attention to the traffic on the river as they made their way along.  As Maude approached the Commercial Slip, which had been the access point into the canal system, she experienced another flashback, this time at the spot where the bridge crossed Canal Street.   The distillery of Jay Pettibone and Company loomed off to the right.  “What the hell?” she mumbled.  How could she possibly know what businesses crowded around the Commercial Slip back in the day?  The intricacies of the Erie Canal district in Buffalo had never been something about which Maude knew much, so it surprised her that she would zero in on such an unusual detail. 
            “Did you say something?”  Don asked her as they paddled up to the Central Wharf to return their kayaks.
            “No, just talking to myself.”  
            Don climbed out and secured his vessel before turning to help his wife.  Maude reached for his hand and allowed herself to be hoisted topside.  She stumbled as she took a step forward, unaccustomed to solid land after hours on the river.  She grabbed for the arm that had reached to steady her, but it was not the bare, tanned upper limb of her husband. It was a wet shirt-sleeve of rough calico.  She could hear the shouts of the men on the docks and the sounds of the nightlife not far off.  The air around her smelled of horse manure, rotting river debris and dead fish.  Startled, Maude looked up expecting to see the bustle of the nineteenth-century Canal District late in the evening when the hardworking folks blew off steam after a long day, but instead it was Don again, and the few people waiting in line for kayaks.  
            Like the glimpse of the railroad tracks and Mr. Pettibones’ distillery, it happened so quickly she wasn’t sure it actually had happened.  This was different, though, because she had experienced more than just a visual hallucination; other inner and outer senses had contributed to the scene.  Maude had felt a distinct sense of conflicting emotions: fear and hope all in the same heartbeat.  Even the air was different when she had exited the river.  Instead of the touristy aromas of cotton candy and sunscreen, the decaying stench of the docks and the people and animals who worked them was evident.

            Don pulled Maude firmly to her feet.  “I’ve got you.”  Maude stopped and took a minute to collect herself.  She resisted the unsettling urge to embrace Don and hold on for dear life, which did not go unnoticed.  “Hey, are you okay?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”  He realized the truth of those words as they exited his mouth.  “Let’s sit down for a minute.”