If you are not guarded, politics worms into your soul, something to which the hermit or monk may be oblivious. Regardless of one’s compass point, it can occupy a part of your being which haunts or feeds you. Sheila Black Petrovich thrives in politics: Listener extraordinaire, relentless negotiator, convincing lobbyist, aggressive fundraiser.

She sits on a park bench along the Rushing River across Via Valhalla from City Hall. She mulls the future in the light of dusk, fine tuning the selection of words for her announcement that she will not be seeking reelection to the Warhaven City Council, a decision she has guarded; her sole confidant has been Pete. She has had a long run. She loves the work, but it is time to move on. She and Pete plan to travel. Her reading can now shift from governmental technical writing to fiction, poetry, and history. “Not that minutiae on sewage, cement, and labor don’t make for mesmerizing reading,” she muses.

Sheila sighs. “Well,” she thinks, “So many fewer conversations that require a priest’s tact. Listening to complaints, anxieties over taxation, frustrations over perceived neglect. I can gleefully say goodbye to that.”

She wonders who will end up filling the Downtown seat. Three individuals who have recently spoken to her of city business were hardware maven Debbie Dacnic at Warhaven Building Supply, a Democrat; Brown’s Lunch Counter waitress, Beatrice Dombledock, staunch Libertarian; and retired Army Major Jack Adams, moderate Republican.

She laughs, mumbling, “Anyone, as long as it’s not an uncontested election!”

Occasionally Warhaven would end up with a single qualified candidate for a council position, but that was rare. Chalk it up to a string of committed civics teachers at Warhaven High School — to all our educators — who preach civic involvement and commitment to community.

In many respects Sheila remains an outsider, an interloper. She descended from old eastern seaboard money. Her first husband, stockbroker David Berry, was arrogant, and that did not sweeten their welcome. Now, the wife of Pete Petrovich, the stepmom to Gregory and Gloria Petrovich, she is more kindly perceived by pioneer families. Too, distance is real because of her Venus-like statuesque beauty. Even after so many years of “middle age,” her skin remains smooth and her lovely eyes, luminescent somewhere, depending upon her mood, among the hues of lupine, deer brush, and lilac, were riveting. Sheila could quell any contention or convoluted discourse with her poised stare. Some situations, just a glance could do it.

Sheila was blessed with many wise ancestors, models for her in this slow, early transition toward retirement. The absence of the politics of governance would leave a void, and she would have to contend with that hole.

Sheila places her hands on the bench, leans back, savoring the river noises and smells. The river’s rumble of water over rocks is loud. There is a lull in traffic behind her. She imagines her grandfather, Cornelius Black, a lover of nature, sitting in his padded Adirondack chair on the porch of the family’s mountain “cabin.” He had added to the Black fortune with astute buying and selling of stocks, including Coca Cola, IBM, and Boeing, and in buying up coastal flood plain real estate that no one in her right mind would build upon, and there were the bonds, infrastructure projects in the Southwest. He had retired largely from public life in his early ‘70s. He played checkers with the help and read from a streamlined library of novels of Ian Fleming, Robert Louis Stevenson, Zane Grey, and Louis L’Amore.

He exclaimed to the young girl, Sheila, exasperated by the utter boredom of watching him do nothing. “Refocus your lens, young lady! What appears to you to be lethargy and apathy is anything but! Without the shackles of commerce, I am hearing frogs and crickets croak. I sight the cardinal in the hickory! I smell the sarsaparilla of the ancient pines. Life, to be meaningful, does not have to include rock and roll and Hula Hoops, Fruit Loops and Campbell’s soups!”

Sheila laughs out loud, remembering, still tickled by the old man’s audacious endearing poesy.

At the council meeting, the initial shock is audible. The loud murmur of acknowledgment gives Sheila the thought, “It sounds like the river!”

Her colleagues, Mayor Orin Holman, George Ansbach, Ike Moseseek, and Tootie McDaniels, all sense their own longing to come for her steady, competent presence in the council chamber. On the surface, for her, united, supportive, they all smile.