I had never seen a woman naked before. The closest I had come was a china statuette—a Grecian goddess standing nude on a pedestal –that my mother’s family had brought with them from England. As a child, I had been fascinated by that unclad beauty, but the porcelain ideal was no match for flesh and blood.
I knew the mechanics of procreation; growing up on a farm I had seen every class of animal in the act of copulation. I had even imagined myself in the act, with some handsome girl from school, or one of my sisters’ friends or even the low women on Water Street that I had seen as I rode with my father to the Salem docks. But even my wildest dreams could not hold a candle to the splendor I experienced that warm spring afternoon in Canajoharie. I could not understand why human beings did not spend every waking minute making love, as Jack and I did that afternoon.
Once beyond the shock of Jack’s transformation from rough canaler to alluring wood sprite, I realized I should have seen it from the start. In the face I had taken for just a duplicate Horne brothers’ face I now saw delicate nuances not common to the males of that clan. Yes, it was from the same mold, and Jack was no beauty. The Horne family nose remained the prominent feature, but I now saw a curl in the lips I hadn’t seen before, and the eyes, wide and feline, had a sparkle and depth where the brothers’ were little more than vacant slits. Even her hair, still as shaggy and rough-cut as her brother’s, was soft and fine as silken threads.
“I’m sorry I took you for a boy, Jack.”
“Never mind, Pratt, that’s what I want to be took for.” She said. “I fool everyone but my brothers. I think sometimes Caleb isn’t really sure.”
“But why? Why not just be a girl?”
“Stay home and bake pies, you mean? It ain’t my nature; I’d rather be a canaler. My brothers wouldn’t let me on the boat if I was a girl. But I just do what comes natural. Makes Caleb mad that I am more the man than he is. Jason takes if for a lark and likes to see people fooled, but if I didn’t pull my weight, he’d drop me on the shore and leave me there.
“Besides, I can be a girl anytime I need to be.” She rolled over and kissed me, and we were at it again.
We never did go swimming. The afternoon seemed endless, drinking cider and talking when we weren’t making love. At one point Jack pulled a clay pipe and a satchel of tobacco from a shirt pocket, and I added sot weed to my litany of newly acquired vices.
With the sun low in the sky and the jug nearly empty, we sat naked by the stream, unwilling to move until we heard a rustling in the woods behind us and a voice calling out, “There ya be! Thieves! Fornicators!”
We turned to see a farmer, no doubt the cider maker, heading towards us carrying a hunting rifle. We gathered our clothes as quickly as we could.
“Leave the jug.,” said Jack.
Following the banks of the stream, we ran, naked, as fast as we could, away from the crazed farmer.
“What if he shoots?” I said.
“It won’t get his cider back so he won’t waste the lead.” She said.
When we were far enough away and could see the farmer had stopped pursuing us, we stopped to dress. Though I had outrun the farmer, I could not outrun the cider which overtook me then and knocked me senseless. I had lost control of my legs, when I spoke my words sounded strange, and my memory of what happened next is spotty at best. At some point the sun had set, Jack had left me, and I was standing, fully clothed again, outside the inn.
In a panic, I remembered I was to meet the Travises there at 6:00, and I knew I was late. The clerk eyed me with suspicion as I entered the inn. I told my story, and with some reluctance, he told me the Travises had left me a message. They had gone to the Congregational church, and if I arrived in time, I should meet them there. I have no idea how I got there, but somehow I made it to the church and knowing the service had already started, I looked for the back door. Inside I saw the Reverend standing behind the lectern, leading the flock in prayer. Mirabile sat behind him ready to play a hymn when he finished. The scene was illuminated by candles on the altar and on both sides of the room. It was quite beautiful.
I saw the crutch lying on the floor near Reverend Travis’s coat, and I picked it up and hobbled out onto the dais. The church was packed with the righteous, but not all had their heads bowed, and they started to murmur as they saw me limp toward the pulpit. Revered Travis turned and saw me coming; by the look on his face, I could tell he knew my condition and knew he could not stop me.
He a-mened his prayer and introduced me as Brother Jonathan. He called me to him—making it clear I was not to open my mouth—then began telling my story himself. Walking with the crutch was hard in my condition, and it grew ever harder; I couldn’t seem to get a grip on the thing, and I nearly tripped myself with every step. Finally, I threw the crutch behind me saying, “I don’t need this.”
The crowd gasped. Reverend Travis was horrified, but the man was nothing if not quick on his feet.
“Halleluiah” He called out, “Praise Jesus, the boy’s been healed. He was crippled, and now he can walk.”
“That’s right,” I said, “I can walk.”
“Mirabile, please help Brother Jonathan to a chair, he’s healed but still week. Brothers and sisters, I am full of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray in Jesus’s name.”
Mirabile led me out of view, out the back door and into a wagon. I fell asleep then, and that is my last recollection of the evening.