In one of the stories resting comfortably in a computer file (and backed up on a hard drive) is “Oswald’s War.” It’s about the homecoming of Nola Jensen to Mt. Jensen, Maine, named for her ancestors. She is seeking a peaceful place to raise her teen-aged daughter Emma.
Her return sets off conflicts between her long-time friends, who are caught in the middle of a feud between old time residents and a crop of newcomers who want to transform the sleepy village into a suburban-style enclave.
One of the conflicts is with Oswald, a farmer whose family arrived when Nola’s did, but while her family prospered over the centuries, Oswald’s did not. He is a little cranky, and perhaps, unbalanced.
In this scene, Nola has tried to open talks with Oswald:
Oswald stepped to the edge of the cliff, the town dark and settled into dusk below.
“You think it’s all about peace, love and understanding,” he spat a black gob of tobacco juice over the rocks. “It ain’t, you know.”
“There is no ideal, Oswald. There are only ideas, and hopes and dreams. Thoughts. This nation was a thought. When our ancestors came up the Kennebec, and with a deep breath picked a trail northwest and landed here, the nation they were a part of was just an idea conceived, not even completed, just hatched that if we as a people declare some of us are free of past restrictions, then we create the possibility that we all will be free of them. The definition and practice of freedom over centuries has changed, but it has become wider and deeper at each turn.”
Oswald spat again.
“Them that’s gots, and them that ain’t. Always was and always will be. And them that ain’t will take it from them that’s gots. That’s freedom, Nola-Girl. Then we all be the same.”
“Now who is living in a fantasy?” Nola asked. “It is all about the chance that something will come of good efforts. When our families stopped on this lakefront a couple hundred years ago they believed that with hard work and luck they could carve out a life, get through the winter alive. Each family had its land, bought sight unseen from a sketchy map. That map was the dream, just as the Constitution was the dream of the nation. It was up to the citizens to make the dream real. Still is.”
Oswald turned back to face Nola, squinting, his profile craggy and unmoved as an old mountain top. “The dream ain’t even,” he said low, nearly a whisper.
“Didn’t say it was,” she replied. “Doesn’t mean it’s not worth dreaming. That’s how you make it even. People straggle sometimes. It doesn’t mean the rest don’t help them out. Makes us all stronger. That’s why this village survived.”
“Ain’t even a dream,” he yelled. “Nothing peaceful, just the winning of conflict, the powerful squashing the weak. It don’t end until them that ain’t, gots. It’s all about…” he let the thought drop, not wanting to give a hint. Fire, he thought; it’s all about fire. And as he stared out over the town settled in to dark, he envisioned a yellow turning orange burst in the church steeple, windows blown red from the hotel annex, embers windblown to the grocery roof, where black smoke rose and reflected the yellow flame, the shoreline roaring in glittering destruction, the black waters of the lake rippled in hellish gold.
“Naw, Nola-girl,” Oswald choked out, “It ain’t about dreams, and peace, just about war until the end.” He spat out another dark gob. “Gets time to pick a side.”