A Passage from Away From Hannah's Castle
JB meandered down the drive towards Hannah’s door when he spied the light. A flood of it washed over the grass highlighting suds that had been released from inside the open barn. He noticed the sea of foam as it crept along its own pathway towards the house. Seemed Hannah was up to some spring-cleaning. He grinned.
Just as JB neared the doorway, he was able to hear the boisterous singing that came from inside. The song was a mournful lament, spilling out in a foreign tongue, some language he never heard before. The voice was equally puzzling. A woman crooner, the vocal tone came from deep in the chest yet each syllable resonated with faultless lucidity. Stepping back into the dark shadows away from the door, he stood listening for a while. Soon the words melted into a melodious hum and then no sound at all. He took it as his cue to enter. Inside there was a woman all right, but it wasn’t Hannah. She was short and voluptuous, with her waist cinched tightly by a wide belt. It had a large buckle with a brass horse raised from the flat silver-plated background.
“Hey, stranger.” The woman smiled, and cocked her head to one side flirtatiously. “You got quite the ogle eye.”
“Oh, sorry, ma’am.” JB blushed, not having realized until that moment he’d been focused on her waistline, straining to make out the words imprinted underneath the brass horse. “I was trying to read your belt,” he mumbled. It sounded like a flimsy excuse.
“No problem.” The woman walked slowly, if a bit provocatively towards him. On instinct he began to back away to find security in the vicinity of the door.
“You here about the horses?” the woman asked, still smiling broadly.
“Oh, no ma’am.” JB was confused. “I was looking for Hannah. I saw the light on out here and felt sure she’d be here—not a guest.”
“Haaaaugh.” The woman laughed, slapping rubber gloves against the backside of her very tight jeans. Suds were thrown off from between the rubber fingers. JB was glad he’d stepped back out of range.
“My husband and I own this spread,” she explained. “Hannah has lived here as our guest since Ricky died. Ricky was her husband and he worked the horses. Anyway he was a good man and a hard worker. After he got sick, we wanted to do something nice for him. So we promised him Hannah could stay on here. With the house and all, Hannah makes out just fine on social security and Ricky’s military pension. No problem.”
JB noticed this woman liked to be problem free. He grinned and moved back in her direction. “Hi, I am JB Iverson,” he said, extending his hand.
She shook his hand wholeheartedly, smiling the entire time. Then she flipped her head to the side as a means of taming the great sweeping curl that ran wild across her forehead. In the tossing, she revealed a parade of small freckles in step with others the peppered her nose and cheeks. It seemed she moved her mane out of the way to openly look him up and down. When the inspection was complete, she whistled lightly under her breath and immediately smiled again. “I’m Betsy Miller,” she said.
“A pleasure to meet you.” JB grinned. He liked her. “Do you happen to know where I might find Hannah?”
“Have you checked in the house?” she retorted. “That’d be my guess. Haven’t been there today. Don’t like to disturb her. I’m here often these days tending the horses.”
“Well, you sure have a beauty here.” JB took his eyes from Betsy to survey the horse she’d been grooming. It was a young mare, a quarter horse, obviously not yet of breeding age. The chestnut coat gleamed in the stark light. The hooves were well trimmed and shod. He could tell by looking, the colt was well cared for. For a moment, he forgot all about Hannah, and thought about his rodeo days. He remembered many of the horses, broncs that abused their riders and what the animals endured in return. He reached forward to pat the flank of the chestnut before him, hoping she never suffered.
“Yeah, she’s a real princess,” Betsy said, gently poking the nostrils with a rag soaked in some acerbic smelling concoction. “Don’t really know her fate, though.”
JB looked up at her in surprise. It was as if she’d tuned into his thinking.
“Excuse me,” she said. She sensed his consternation and took it for discomfort. Again she pitched her chin into the air at a sharp angle and her hair went flying back off her forehead. “Leave it to me to prattle on.”
“No, no,” JB assured her. “I like to hear what’s new around here.”
“Well, here in the barn,” Betsy went on, “the breaking news is strangles. And it’s stolen the headlines for too long now.”
“Strangles can be some pretty nasty stuff,” JB said. He knew enough about ranching to know the illness was highly contagious.
“Yeah, well,” Betsy snorted. “This one’s been like an alien invasion because we haven’t found the place where the darned germ is breeding. So we’ve moved these youngsters over here to keep them safe from whoever else is already infected.”
“So this barn is okay,” JB surmised. “It’s not contaminated.”
“This place is fine,” Betsy said. “It’s just got to be kept clean and sanitized, like the animals themselves.”
“Sorry to hear your news.” JB patted the flank of the quarter horse again, as if to assure himself it was strong and sturdy, not ill.
“Well, these few are bound to be all right,” Betsy said. She did it again, she read his thoughts. “They’re just quarantined because they’re young and vulnerable.”
“A miserable shame to lay up horses like these,” JB commented. He now understood why she was cleaning the nostrils of the horse. The rag must contain disinfectant of some sort.
“We’ve got over twenty exposed and five already sick,” she said. Her brow furrowed into worry lines. “To me it’s a sign. Time to sell this place and retire. Move out to Rapid City before I spend a fortune in phone bills talkin’ everyday to my grandkids.”
“I see.” JB really didn’t know what to say, so he gave a non-committal remark. Betsy was easy going and full of chatter. She put him at ease, unlike Hannah, who put him into turmoil.
“You’re an easy guy to talk to,” Betsy said.
She did it again. She picked from his brain the topic of his thoughts and rolled it over into their conversation.
“And one day soon you’ll be the new apple of Hannah’s eye.”
“I don’t think that’s true.” JB laughed at the very idea. She certainly wasn’t practiced at tapping into Hannah’s psyche.
“Oh, she doesn’t know it yet,” Betsy went on. “But I’m gypsy and I see these things. Trust me, she’ll be smitten.”
“Hard for me to tell,” JB confessed.
“Sure it is.” Betsy giggled and flipped her hair back. “After all, we’re talking about Hannah.”
“Yeah, I get your point.” JB shrugged. All women were mysterious, but Hannah was in a league of her own.
“Do you wanna go inside? Find her?” Betsy threw the cleaning rag in a plastic bucket and sealed it tight. “Her back door’s always open.”
He hoped she’d help him to gather some courage before going in to face Hannah.
“Hey, relax.” Betsy spoke immediately upon completion of his thought. “She’s a good egg.”
He was startled. She really knew what he was thinking. “You mean Hannah?”
“Of course I do.” Betsy laughed. “Forget I read minds? My gypsy blood allows me to do that, but just with special folks. Not everybody’s so amenable to it.”
“Well, glad to oblige.” He grinned, meaning what he said.
“She’s a bit hard boiled sometimes.” Betsy went on with her assessment of their mutual friend. “Can’t blame her. Married her childhood sweetheart and lived with him most of her life, until the cancer took him.”
“It’s always hard when death steals loved ones,” JB agreed.
“She cried for months solid.” Betsy wound her story to an end. “She never really recovered fully. Meeting you is getting her further down that road.”
The connection wasn’t really clear and JB wondered if Betsy was pulling his leg.
“Look,” she said. “Let me show you how I came to see the two of you together.”
Betsy grabbed a water bucket and placed it up on the bench nearest to where they stood. Following her gaze, JB looked inside. It was three-quarters full of clean water.
“What we’re doing here is called scrying.” Betsy talked without moving her eyes from the water in the bucket. “The word ‘describe’ is from the root ‘descry’. Over the years ‘descry’ was shortened to ‘scry’ which means something like ‘transmitting faint impressions’.”
“So,” JB said, “it’s not a gypsy word?”
“No, it’s good old Anglo-Saxon, as far as I know,” Betsy explained. “But, it’s an ancient practice and many cultures used it for centuries to divine or ‘describe’ both current and upcoming events.”
“Interesting.” JB grinned. He felt foolish standing next to a virtual stranger, starring blankly into a pail of water.
“I thought you’d feel that way,” she said. “Everybody does at first.”
Without giving him any time to respond, she hurried on. “Look, the water’s settled down again. It was a bit unstable from when I moved it to the bench. But the surface is now smooth and that’s what we want.”
From the corner of his eye, JB saw Betsy continue to stare blankly into the water. Flies buzzed around them both, but she paid them no mind. She was intent on her gaze into the water. Almost in a whisper she took up her explanation.
“What you have to do,” she said and then paused a few seconds, “is look towards the bottom. It’s in the dark parts images grow. Try it.”
JB mimicked Betsy’s stance over the pail of water. He focused his sight on the bottom. He saw darkness and the ringed pattern made by the metal press when the bucket was fashioned. Other than that, nothing appeared.
They waited in silence for many minutes. Finally Betsy decided she’d given her pupil ample time to gather something besides wool. He’d have been grateful to be able to report he’d seen that or any part of a sheep. But no such luck.
“In the beginning it’s rather difficult,” she commented. “Like any other skill it takes practice, lots of practice.”
“Sorry, but I have nothing to report.” JB playfully stood at attention and saluted. He pretended to leave his stint standing guard at the bucket, looking for whatever might threaten the quiet waters inside. Then he shrugged his shoulders to release some of the tension that built while standing bent awkwardly over the pail. “Maybe it’s easier to scry when you’re gypsy.”
“I taught Hannah easy enough,” Betsy said. “She took to it like a duck to the swamp. That’s a little play on words I like to use, as a cloudy slough works better than a clear lake for scrying.”
“Sorry if I disappoint you,” he said. “Guess I’m not one of your better students.”
“Never mind, JB,” she responded. “Usually I don’t teach this art to anyone. I just enjoy using it. Hannah was the exception. And you are a special man whether you scry or not. That’s what I know from the waters. I see you together with Hannah and you are both very happy.”
JB had difficulty putting any stock into what Betsy said. It was like she ‘described’ somebody else’s relationship. When apart from Hannah, he’d build castles in the air envisioning the pleasantries they’d share the next time he stopped by. But when they were actually together, he’d smash up against Hannah’s emotional brick wall, leaving the after taste in his mouth of sour blood between them. It seemed a far cry from the warmth of his dreams.
“Don’t tell me she’s got you insecure.” Betsy laughed and threw back her errant lock of hair. “C’mon, let me take you to the house.”
She continued to giggle as they left the barn. After sliding the doors part way shut, she glanced over at JB. He suddenly felt certain a guy like him being intimidated by Hannah tickled her. Maybe he hadn’t learned scrying, but he seemed to be picking up her mind reading without any trouble.
All the way to the house, Betsy grinned. Again he heard her thoughts in his mind. She was overjoyed things were headed in the direction she foresaw in her scrying. She had validation that the feelings between Hannah and JB were mutual. The proof was walking right next to her. And he heard her thinking, not only did Hannah and JB share the attraction but plenty of edginess as well. It made for a spicy blend to throw into the sauce of what had to be their otherwise monotonous everyday fare.
JB couldn’t believe he’d picked up the fine art of eavesdropping and wondered if it’d work with everybody or just Betsy. It’d be nice to know what Hannah thought about him. Then again, maybe not.
“Hey, relax,” Betsy interrupted. “She might look ferocious, but she doesn’t bite.”
So she scanned his mind while he read her thoughts. He felt a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. But if she left the matter unspoken, so would he. He glanced down at her just in time to see her throw the lock of auburn hair off her forehead. Then while he had a clear view of her expression, she peered directly into his eyes and smiled.
“I’m referring to Hannah,” she said. “When I tell you she won’t bite.”
Betsy’s happiness was contagious. JB stopped and pretended to tug at the zipper on his jacket. “Would you like to see the scars from my last visit?”
When they arrived at the house Betsy knocked gently on the door and the two of them waited for a response. JB was soothed by the prospect of not facing Hannah alone. They would enter the lion’s den together. Without staking any verbal claim to it, they’d quickly become a team chasing down ways to first set free—and then gently tame—Hannah’s unruly heart. Unfortunately, she was not at home.