McNaughton Connaughton, aptly named for both sides of the family,
landowner in the new world, squeezer of pennies and nickels at
the very corpulence of coin, embarrassed at times by his own good
fortune where his roots had once been controlled and ordained
by potatoes and turnips or the lack thereof, gazed over the latest
acquisition of a two-acre parcel abutting his prime abode and
wondered how he could best utilize it. Mere coinage, he had early
assessed, would apply the jimmy bar under Carlton Smithers and
separate him from the land in their town of Saxon. Carlton was
old, alone, susceptible. It would be a piece of cake. It was,
subsequently and as he had forecast, a swift steal, and papers
and proper process moved the property under the shield of his
big man in his own right, massive across the shoulders, Chester,
even as a dreamer of large proportions, was given to talking to
his father long gone down the pike, from a runaway case of pneumonia,
to better pasture. The old gent had once called it a greater
kingdom and a lesser court. Still civil in such matters,
Chester addressed his father as sir, never once forgetting
his manner of address. Sir, he said this day, how
can I best use this land? The farmer is no longer in me; no endless
hours, no thievery of land and what it will allow to be taken
from it, these I do not envision. What would you propose? I would
by design do whatever you suggest. On his porch, the sun
wavering its heat across the width of the two acres, Chester transposed
himself into his study mode.
it takes all kinds of beliefs to manage oneself in this world,
and commerce or business demands certain of those beliefs come
into the fate of a man. Chester heard his father say, in the same
enigmatic voice, the same wonder of voice, the simple words, Swan
River Daisy, the words a barely audible breath coming upon
his porch, like an aside from forever. The long-gone old man had
not entirely eluded him. A sense of trust redoubled itself in
him as he heard the echo say again, from some parallax athwart
the universe, Swan River Daisy, and repeating, Swan
struck him. Oh, he knew that sun-yellow flower well, a hardy,
deep-root grower that dispelled an easy pull of root work in the
fall. One year a decade or so earlier he had planted the whole
flower bed across the front of the old colonial house with the
tenacious daisies, waiting for their yellow waves to unfold a
day in May, a wave a teasing breath of wind could set to dancing,
the daisies standing so tall. Both the blossoming and the root
work came back to him in swift recall. Did the old man mean to
have him construct a greenhouse on the property, to specialize
in Swan River Daisies? Was that the evolution of the simple answer
a soft wind had brought him across the field? Should he plant
the whole field with such golden color it would attract tourists?
Should he run horses, like roans and pintos, through the field,
and to what end? What good means is such advice without fair and
length, in this quandary, the sun nodded his head and closed his
eyes, and the old man said again from off the porch yet at immeasurable
distance, Swan River Daisy.
upon him eventually turmoil and noise and his daughter crying
out to him, Father! Father! Look, look at the field!
his new property sat the most gorgeous Mississippi paddle wheel
steamboat he had ever seen. It was red and blue of color and proud
in its bearing and was smoking at its single black stack. Bales
of cotton, like pale brown dominoes, stood on the prow of its
deck and the paddle wheel astern of it, like a huge radius, spun
itself through slow, angry revolutions. But there were no passengers
crowding its deck, no crew evident about its surfaces, no movement
other than smoke in a single column drifting upward to dispersion
and the paddle wheel only partly visible in its circular passage.
printed in large yellow letters against the blue hull was the
name, Swan River Daisy.
less than the passage of one hour, he was nearly assaulted by
the Building Inspector who had come in answer to neighbors
complaints, his eyes popping, his hands in agitated gesture. How
did you get it here? Did you have a permit? Do you have a permit?
Was there a building plan submitted to Town Hall before this traffic?
I suspect, sir, that you have violated many laws and regulations
and will be held accountable.
shrugged his shoulders. I did not bring it here. How could
I do that? It was just there. My daughter, in great confusion,
yelled at me and said, Look in the field. There it
that your field? The inspector was indeed young, indeed
officious and surly in manner, the way Chester looked upon him,
and wore his hair long and uncombed.
I bought it quite recently. A pup is still a pup, Chester
announced to himself.
suggest, sir, that this must go all the way to the Mayor. You,
most likely, as I have said, have broken all kinds of rules. That
plot is not zoned for business. The inspector was young,
snotty-nosed, arrogant in an imperial and puerile manner at one
and the same time, and was shaking his head and pointing the most
possible accusatory finger at landowner Chester McNaughton Connaughton,
smarting at the surliness.
business is that, inspector? Chester could not bring himself to
call the young man sir. That was reserved for his father. His
father came from that distant point again, that far parallax,
Swan River Daisy.
wide-eyed young inspector, obviously not in on the other conversation,
replied, from his haughty countenance, Why, that of transportation,
having a river boat, delivering cotton bales, obviously a horde
of passengers who are below deck and gambling illegally.
His head shook in a fearfully authoritative manner, superior counsel
judging the Swan River Daisy from his dais, and thus judging Chester
bales where? Chesters hands were on his hips, his
arms like sails, a big man towering over the young judge in pants
though not in robe.
the next port of call, perhaps. The young man looked down
past the fields the way one might look down river. Fluster, for
the lack of another expression, came on him. I must report
this to higher authorities. I will call the electric and telephone
and cable companies to see if any of their wires have been cut
or disturbed. This is highly unusual. Improper displacement of
utilities most certainly has been commissioned in this transport.
Think of all your neighbors so unceremoniously impacted. Perhaps
half the town. Why havent I been so informed? In the
most inquisitive gesture, he cocked his head to one side, a half
smile at his mouth, as if to say you can let me in on this, and
said, How did you ever in this world navigate the underpass
from the main highway? That seems quite impossible.
suspect it does look that way, but I did not bring it here. I
did not build it. I did not order it. I did not wish for it. And
I assure you I know nothing about the underpass or the overpass
or how it was, as you say, navigated. Chester suspected
there was in his own eyes a merry twinkle at this point. He consciously
depressed the words, Perhaps theres been a change
sure as heaven, you are responsible for it. The finger was
wagging at Chester once more. Its on your property,
sir, and you are therefore responsible. I hope you have insurance.
what? replied Chester, still hearing the far voice saying,
Swan River Daisy.
the obvious damages you have incurred getting it here.
the Swan River Daisy onto your property, thats what. I can
read the name on the hull. I know what a Mississippi steamboat
is, and a stern paddle wheeler for all that. You cant fool
me in these matters. I assure you I have read The Adventures
of Tom Sawyer. I know about the big river and the boats. I
even saw the movie, Tom and Huck and Becky in the cave. And Injun
Joe. A pause came upon the young inspector, jaw hanging
slack, then a distant light came into his eyes as he stuttered
in saying while pointing at the Swan River Daisy, This
this, sir ... this is not Saxonish. This is, and he held
his breath in proper caesura before he nearly shouted out, Mississippian.
As he walked away, Chester McNaughton Connaughton saw a definite
slump had accosted the young mans shoulders.
less than another hour a parade of men and two women came to Chester
McNaughton Connaughton as he and his daughter Chadra were leaning
on the fence that girded the new parcel of land
Swan River Daisy still puffing a thin line of black smoke, the
wheel still turning mysteriously into the earth, and as yet no
passengers or crew evident. Counted in that new audience were
the Mayor, the Town Counsel, three men from the Planning Board
and two women dressed in rose-colored dresses, an energetic member
of the Appeals Board who was rapidly making notations on a pad
of paper, and citing the length of the Swan River Daisy by use
of a visimeter of a special sort. Every man was dressed in a black
suit, white shirt and black tie and Chester, whispering to his
daughter, said, They look like hangmen if you ask me.
To which the daughter replied, Especially the women in those
deep-rose dresses, so ghastly.
Mayor, bristling, holding forth in front of the small parade,
addressed Chester McNaughton Connaughton. My dear Mr. Connaughton,
what is going on here? With his hands on his hips he was
still half the size of Chester, yet he had a round face, almost
moonlike above the black tie, and deeply-set eyes continuously
at measurement. This disturbance, this disdain. I was at
a wedding reception. It is no mean fete to slip away from a wedding
reception. Ill have you know. I might have dishonored a
reminded himself of the change of tide comment and thought well
of it. Do you seek passage, sir? Do you sail? Indeed, I
do not, and do not contemplate doing so.
this your craft? The Mayor, whose name was Anton Mustain,
said to Chester, and then smiled at the two ladies from the Appeals
Board. He did not know which one he favored best.
is not my craft. It is not my boat. It is not my ship.
this your land?
all know this is my land, Chester offered, leaning back
against the split rail fence. I bought it from Carlton Smithers.
Mayor smirked for the ladies once more. At a ridiculously
low price, from what I hear.
you have bought it at that price? Chester said.
beside the point, the Mayor said.
what I say, Chester came back with. Its all
beside the point. This is not my paddle wheeler.
it stays here in your field, you will have to pay taxes.
In his affirmation, Anton Mustain was holding the hand of one
of the ladies of the Board of Selectmen. He squeezed that hand
as a sign of his authority and their potential. That means
property taxes, water fees, sewerage fees, all that apply to a
place of business. The Assessors are at this moment coming up
with a firm billing." He felt puffed and thorough and mightily
what business do you refer? Chester said.
business of commerce, sir. It is most evident that this craft
is a business enterprise. My god, man, look at the piles of cotton
bales on the prow of that craft.
you suggest that I have a cotton field where such cotton is raised?
you get it, sir, is your concern. Mine is that you pay the appropriate
fees for running such a business.
I offered you for the taking every bale of cotton, would you take
them, for free? Chester offered. Chadra Connaughton squeezed
her fathers hand.
in heavens name would I do with bales of cotton? Where would
I take them?
Building Inspector, whom I note did not return with you, suggested
the next port of call, down river somewhere.
god, sir, there is no river here.
is precisely my argument, Mr. Mayor. There is no river to properly
run a business of boats. There is no next port of call. There
is no place to deliver the goods of a business. There is nothing.
This town has not supplied any services for such a business. And
you wish to tax me on those conditions.
god, sir, there is a boat in your field and you will pay taxes
on it. His voice was a few octaves up on its normal range.
The lady of the held hand squeezed him back. He turned to the
assessor still madly scribbling on his pad. I want the whole
business of this land sale scrutinized before this day is out.
We will get to the root cause for all actions, mark my words.
And once you have ascertained the proper tax billing, please present
it to Mr. Connaughton. He squeezed the ladys hand
and said, in his best manner, And with a duplicate copy
to me so that I can fully watch and control this situation myself,
if I must say so.
parade of authority of the Town of Saxon walked off behind the
Mayor who strutted like a drum major at the head of a band.
Connaughton tugged her anxiety at her fathers sleeve. Easy,
child, he said, it will be fine with us. We have done
Mayor Anton Mustain woke in the morning and looked out his back
window, hoping to catch the glint of the early sunrise, The Swan
River Daisy, on due course, was now crowding his whole back yard.
Sheehan has published 7 books in the last 6 years: mysteries,
poetry, memoirs, short story collections. They include Epic
Cures, short stories in 2005, from Press 53 in Winston-Salem,
NC; A Collection of Friends, memoirs, in 2004, from Pocol
Press in Clifton, VA; and This Rare Earth & Other Flights,
poetry, in 2003. He has six Pushcart nominations, a Martha Albrend
memoir nomination, a Silver Rose Award from ART for short story,
and many Internet appearances.