I live in the suburbs of the piedmont, but we own (so far, the closets of) a little house in the mountains, on a low mountain, or “knob” as the folks around here like to say. Granny’s Knob is what it’s called. We may, in fact, live in Granny’s house, as ours is by far the oldest and shabbiest on the road, but it’s fairly snug except for the stinkbug problem. But, as I’m not the type to let the perfect lie in the way of the good, we’re pretty happy with it. Plus, the monthly mortgage bill is cheap. Also, soon it’ll be beachfront property due to climate change and we can leave it to our kids who can sell it for millions.
Down in the suburbs, we have a fairly sizeable fenced-in back yard, which our Akita mutt uses to full advantage. She’s a fine dog. We found her as a little bitty thing in a box of pups in front of our local food coop. The dude who was trying to find homes for the puppies had been stymied at the shelter, due to overcrowding; a huge puppy mill—the sort that generates the type of little frufru dogs people seem to like– had been busted in the next state over, and the shelters for a couple of hundred miles around were full to bursting with traumatized Pomeranians and Malteses. So there was no room at the inn for these little Akita mutt puppies. Thus: the box in front of the coop.
One of our daughters chose her from among the litter and we took her home. We named her Pumblechook, after a character in Great Expectations. It’s nice to name your pets after minor literary characters, who are often beloved of their authors and need a little time in the sun. Pumble likes the sun plenty but, sad to say, doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. Her coat is very thick: Akitas were bred to fight bears in the snow country of Japan, and so when she gets wet, she’s wet for days. And when she blows her fur? Lord God, there are not enough lint rollers in the world.
I take Pumble on walks but her leash makes me sad. Leashes, while necessary in the suburbs—especially for Pumble who wouldn’t mind eating any dog smaller than herself—are restrictive. Dogs are sorta ultra-refined wolves, right, and wolves like to run free.
For many years, I’ve entertained an elaborate fantasy about taking her off the leash; what would it be like? Would she stick around? Would she frolic and smile? Would she immediately bolt? My one daughter had a rescue Husky once; that dog spent every waking moment trying to get away, despite the fact that my daughter treated her like a visiting ambassador. Take the Husky to the dog park? She’d ignore the other dogs and patrol the fence line like an obsessed prison guard. I thought maybe Pumble off the leash would act similarly; she has been known to escape our back yard and wander the neighborhood officiously, the hair on the back of her neck at full stand.
You hear about how amazing a dog’s sense of smell is; how remarkable, their hearing. If that’s true, then how come all those stories of dogs getting lost and then found 1000 miles from home. Lack of intellect? Lack of loyalty? Looking for better chow?
Up on Granny’s Knob, I decided to try to make my fantasy reality. I put a baggie of cheese in my pocket and off we went, sans leash. Pumble was amazed. Her eyes were wide; her breath came fast. We set off up the mountain. She ran ahead ten feet, looked back, trotted ten more feet, looked back. I called to her often and toasted her return. She began to run further ahead, looking back to either a) make sure I was with her or b) wonder why I wasn’t chasing her down.
But she stuck with me. Day after day, we’d go out together leashless, and walk the mountain. Once we found a possum skull. Often, I sang. On one day, for a couple of hours, I helped my husband haul logs from up the mountain. Pumble ran around, happy, until she came to a spot that was so extremely steep that she couldn’t get up the slope. She was obviously worried and, as she’s getting on to elderly, I decided to help her, though I too am getting on to elderly. At any rate, in a Laurel n Hardyesque chain of events, I climbed down the slope and pushed her up by her butt, while Dave hauled her by her collar. “We saved her life,” I declared. Dave snorted. And while I’m fairly sure that she could’ve found her way all by herself, a doubt lingers: while Pumble’s awfully nice, she may not be the sharpest tool in the box.
One day, towards the end of our stay, I veered off the path and got totally bogged down in what mountain people call a “hell,” which is a nigh impenetrable cage of mountain laurel. Once in, you can’t really get out. I mean, you can, but it takes fortitude as well as the adrenaline that comes with panic. While I was fighting my way through, I caught the look in Pumble’s eye. “Oh. My. God,” she seemed to be saying. “Come ON.” I’m not sure but I think I saw her shake her head at my predicament. Then, with a final glance, she disappeared completely.
Back at our house, Dave stood staring into space, axe in hand. “I lost our dog,” I announced. “You lost our dog?” he said. I nodded. He put down the axe and walked up the road some, calling. About ten minutes later, Dave and Pumble returned together. I gave Pumble the rest of the cheese in my pocket and praised her, my good prodigal dog. Then I made Dave lunch.
Tomorrow, we go back to the piedmont, back to the leash and the fence. But until we return to the mountains, Pumble (and I) will live with our memories. Do dogs remember like that?
I believe Dr. Ford, of course. From the evidence I heard—uncorroborated, but totally credible—the truth is that Brett Kavanaugh, drunk out of his mind, assaulted her and attempted to rape her. That he didn’t succeed is likely due to the intensity of his drunkenness. I expect he was too stumbling-drunk to see the act through.
It makes perfect sense to me that Judge Kavanaugh believes he didn’t do it. He was likely so drunk he can’t remember. And he’s so arrogant that if he doesn’t want to believe it, he won’t. It doesn’t jive with his self-view. He doesn’t believe that a golden boy such as himself could have acted thus. He doesn’t have a confidence problem (which comes with an associated and often useful dose of self-doubt). He may not be lying about his assault of Dr. Ford; he just doesn’t remember doing it.
This is pure he said/she said. I believe her. Others believe him. The FBI did/did not do its job. The White House did/did not tamper with the investigation.
In point of fact: Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty and due to a conflagration of horrors, the truth is out there but inaccessible.
I don’t like Kavanaugh’s philosophies, his politics, his world-view. He’s a Republican dream-come-true. But here’s the truth: the Republicans got the chance to fill the seat. They’re filling it with the most useful (to them) candidate they can find. The total fury we Democrats feel about Merrick Garland is something that Republicans choose to overlook. They’re still mad about Bork. Maybe that’s what Kavanaugh meant when he said, “what goes around comes around.” We can hope that’s what he meant. We can hope that he was talking about the past not the future.
But here’s why he shouldn’t be confirmed.
It’s his partisanship. That’s all it is. That’s all we need to think about.
That’s all the Senate should think about. They can’t know for sure, beyond all doubt, about his drinking/his sexual aggressiveness/his capacity for violence.
But they can know this:
–he’s feels entitled to the position and this, in itself, ought to disqualify him;
–he believes that he was the victim of the actions of various Democrats and thus, cannot be trusted to be fair;
–he lied under oath about the fact that he had a drinking problem in college and high school;
–he’s unable, apparently, to keep his temper and thus, cannot be trusted to use logic and law, rather than emotion and rage when judging a case;
The Trump administration has banned the Center for Disease Control (the CDC) from using seven words and phrases in documents that will be used to put together the 2018-19 budget. This ban is concerning to those of us who feel that word-choice is an important tool in communication. I’m no vocabularic prodigy, but I do like to feel useful and thus, I give you the list of banned words accompanied by alternative phraseology, which the CDC may like to use as they go forward.
Banned Word Number One: FETUS
Possible Alternative: The clump of cells which result from an egg that has been fertilized by a sperm which, once carried to term, becomes a healthy infant if the mother has had easy access to prenatal care except bye-bye to the Affordable Care Act–because rich people need tax cuts–but probably mostly because Obama thought it up and then when Obama made fun of Trump’s hairpiece at the journalist’s dinner, Trump went home and sat on his golden toilet and decided, well hell yes I’m going to take Vlad’s offer after all–and become president of New York and Florida and whatever those other states are and then I’m going to undo everything that Obama did because he made fun of my hairpiece which then (Trump muses,) I actually had to appoint the wig-maker to the Supreme Court or else he–the wig-maker-dude-now-Supreme-Court-Justice–said he was going to tell on me for collusion;–not to mention bye-bye to the research dollars in case we haven’t heard the end of Zika–because rich people need tax cuts–and I almost forgot: bye-bye to services that could help these clumps of cells once they actually achieve personhood– such as Pre-K for all; maternity leave; healthy school lunches, a hike in the minimum wage because you try raising a kid on what Walmart’s paying you–plus, what about us ladies and the havoc that constant childbirth plays on our bodies, which it ain’t nothing to laugh at, I’m telling you, and I’ve only had a couple of childbirths—and which compels me to ask this—how come the life of that clump of cells is more important than the life of the person within whom that clump of cells resides? —which reminds me that birth-control under Obamacare used to be oh so easy, I remember those days, not that I needed birth control by that time but I have a couple of daughters as well as there are other people who have daughters, which like, can’t we care about other people, please? plus which, easy access to birth control did in fact reduce the teen pregnancy rate in my state of North Carolina like a way lot but try to tell that to some shmoe in Congress with a brown suit and a nasty past who thinks he’s above the law.
Banned Word Number Two: VULNERABLE
Possible Alternative: the quality of being at the mercy of something, like say, if you live in a low-lying place and then a hurricane comes and destroys your home and your livelihood—except Republicans would say, gah, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and get your own damn golden toilet and keep your grubby hands off my golden toilet; or, say, you were born prematurely or unhealthy because your mother had health problems when she was pregnant but not enough pre-natal care because adios Obamacare—because rich people need tax cuts—and plus, there’s no paid maternity leave in this country which, I had to go back to work six weeks after my first was born but a lot of people by which of course I mean women don’t have the fanfuckingtastic luxury of six whole weeks (I had to take sick leave in order to get paid) and thus, because of not enough pre-natal care, you are more susceptible to infection and disease but oh well, adios Obamacare; or, say, your skin is of a darker hue than 99% or maybe it was even 100% of the happy intern kids in that Paul Ryan selfie taken at the Republican National Convention which oh my god, really Paul Ryan? did it not even cross your mind to be even slightly abashed by the lack of variousness in that picture? my point being that brown people obviously a) aren’t welcome and/or b) don’t feel welcome in your party because you guys choose not to see discrimination when it’s in front of your actual faces and thus, if you can’t see what’s there, there’s no way for you to grock the connection between the little black girl who was the only one in my whole elementary school when it was integrated because Principal Vincent was a cold hard racist, and how she cried every day in the bathroom, and the fact that her treatment might in fact have actually made an actual difference in what she went on to be or, for that matter, had the opportunity to go on to be.
Banned Word: ENTITLEMENT
Possible Alternative: I’m actually a little fuzzy on this one which reminds me that my friend Martha Scarborough and I are going to make a podcast called Two White Ladies Speculating so I’m just speculating that this particular word has been banned in order to retrain people that– just because they pay a whole bunch of money into something for, like, their whole lives–doesn’t mean that the government should actually cough it up when they (the people) actually need it because if they (the people) did have access to this thing that they feel they deserve, then, well, it might jeopardize the rich people’s tax cuts, which is sort of ironic, because in my opinion and I believe the opinion of many of my fellow dems, if the mony that we payed to the government was actually being used for things like say, health care for all! or free tuition! or maternity leave, like in every other civilized country in the damn world, then well hell yes, take it, take the money, but noooooooo, are the monies we pay to the government going to free school lunches or veterans’ benefits or are those monies going to, say it with me, tax cuts for rich people.
Banned Word: DIVERSITY
Possible Alternative: multivariety, which I kinda like, due to it sounds sort of Shakespearian.
Banned Words (two of ‘em): EVIDENCE-BASED and SCIENCE-BASED
Possible Alternative: Give me a minute in order to subdue the feeling of dis-ease that makes me want to throw something.
Just another minute.
So, water freezes at 32 degrees and we know this because we have, with our eyes, seen this phenomenon, just as we know, because we have tools that help us to see teeny weeny things that we can’t actually see without the help of these tools that there are things called germs which can cause bad things to happen unless you wash your hands before, say, voting no on bills to fund research because, after all, the button you have to push to vote might be dirty because of when you handled that snake in church yesterday, and also, the world is not flat, guinea worm is a problem, and global warming is gonna get you whether or not you say the actual words, because that’s the thing about facts: they do not care about you and your cachet as senators or your dollars as rich people, nope, not even a tiny little bit.
Banned Word: TRANSGENDER
Possible Alternative: a person who is not hurting you.
In which Mrs. Tell opines on the lost cause of equity; boasts about her cherry cordial; remembers her youth; suffers an epiphany.
We expected Miss Maria back by now, but she has wrote that she’ll visit Miss Juliet in London before she returns here to Longmeadow. I am glad that she ain’t in a rush for home, for she needed a holiday which talking to crowds in fancy halls ain’t my idea of it, but I then I ain’t high born. Perhaps she’ll find a little fun in London. I recall that when she and Mr. Charles was first married, they used to enjoy the theater which there ain’t none of that here at Longmeadow so maybe she’s missed it. Maybe she’ll watch Miss Julie sing which we hear she’s very popular.
I am grateful to Mr. Somerday for fixing things the way he did. First, he pushed Miss Maria to go, for he saw her misery around that gypsy and that she needed some new air. And he was as good as his word and has helped Miss Alta plenty on her rounds. Also, he told Miss Maria that Miss Alta’s doing splendid at her task of minding Longmeadow.
“I wrote that Alta is doing a masterful job,” he told me. “I bespoke her praises quite ardently and told Mrs. Pendergrast that she ought not to hurry home.”
He sort of twinked at me when he said it, if you take my meaning, and I twinked back. We didn’t say the words but I think we was both thinking the same thing: that it’s good for Miss Maria and Miss Alta both. Miss Maria gets a holiday; Miss Alta has a chance to come out of her shell, some.
“Mr. Somerday,” said I, “Would you like a sip of cherry cordial? I made it last summer and it ought to be right just about now.”
I fetched him a glass and watched while he drank it. He smiled which it’s the best cordial I have ever tasted if I do say so. We all like Mr. Somerday for he is a sunny person and polite.
And indeed, there he is, is regular as sunrise, ready for rounds with Miss Alta each day. This very morning, he climbed into the trap without a word of asking, just as natural as milk.
I had business at the sweet shop with Mrs. Miller which that woman will complain about a bent pin if you let her, so Miss Alta said I might ride along.
“We shall go to the workshops today, if you please, Mr. Somerday,” said Miss Alta when Mr. Somerday climbed up. “As it rains, we’ll be less likely to disrupt a group of visitors.”
He smiled at her and took the reins.
The shops make a neat little row: the cabinet makers and the straw-plaiters, the glassblower and the weavers, the sweet shop with its shelves of jellies and compotes, which that last is where Mrs. Miller works. But today them shops lack bustle. It’s too bad, too. July ought to be bringing daily tourists handling bonnets and jars of jam, but this rain which it’s been raining for days now, keeps ‘em all away.
Miss Alta chose the plaiting shop first. I went with, for I had a parcel to give to Sarah Ruth. She is my niece which her father was brother to my David. That was Dan Tell, and he moved him and his wife and eight of his children out of Longmeadow and down to Bristol, for he was in business and wished to live in a port city. Sarah Ruth stayed back, which I expect she didn’t want to live her life looking after them kids. It was good of Dan to let her stay here when he likely needed her there. But he’s a loving pa to his kids, though he has so many it’s right wonderful he can keep them straight. Sarah Ruth lives in a little house near Longmeadow Village with four other unmarried girls and Mrs. Couch looks after them, which she is kindly enough and a good cook too.
“Good morning!” said Miss Alta when we walked in.
“Good morning, Miss Alta,” the girls said together. They nodded at Mr. Somerday, who greeted each of them by name. Sarah Ruth stood up to kiss me on my cheek.
There were three of them at work—Sarah Ruth, and also Louisa and Kitty. They’re comely girls, even Sarah Ruth who is a little plump. Miss Maria likes to give them tourists their money’s worth: if them girls were big-nosed or grey toothed, they’d more likely be jam cookers or baby tenders than here in this shop to be viewed by all. Similar to Arum House: them good looking young men, all them roses, that swing on the branch of the oak. Sometimes Longmeadow seems like a giant pantomime, but for the players being real people.
To be truthful, I will say that this idea of Longmeadow as a great stage don’t come from my own head, but from Miss Juliet’s.
“I wonder,” I heard her say to Miss Maria during breakfast once, “why you are so adamant that the gypsies stay when they are universally unwanted. Perhaps you like them for their rough picturesqueness? Maybe you think that any performance without a dark foil cannot be much fun.”
Miss Maria just shook her head and sighed at Miss Juliet, as I recall.
Them plaiting girls sit on their little platform
behind the half wall that separates them from what ought to have been the tourists but today was only Miss Alta and Mr. Somerday and me. Their work tables are set close to big windows which let light in and fresh air too. Mr. Charles, bless his soul, placed a deal of value in fresh air. In this weather, though, the windows were closed and the lamps turned up.
“You are all alone,” said Miss Alta.
“Yes,” said Louisa. “The rain keeps them away.”
“No one even just to watch us,” said Kitty. “Not a soul.”
“It may yet clear,” said Mr. Somerday.
The girls nodded politely and went back to their plaiting.
I was about to leave on my errand when I heard Miss Alta say, “I have always wondered how you do it. Could you teach me, do you think?”
Now I was born plaiting as is most lasses in these parts but I have yet to see a piece of straw in the fingers of a high born girl, which I was curious to see how she’d do at it so I lingered.
Sarah Ruth said, “Ah then, Miss Alta, You must have nothing better to do, I suppose, if you want to learn such a thing as this. But come around and we’ll show you. Louisa’s the best at it, oh now, Lou, don’t be coy. She can do seventeen strands, she’s that good.”
“She’s a right marvel,” said Kitty. “This here English Wave is hers. No one else can do nothing near as good as this.”
“I didn’t realize this was yours in particular, Louisa,” said Miss Alta. “Why, it really is ornate, isn’t it.”
“Very fancy,” said I. “Not everyone can do that.”
“Thank you, Miss,” said Louisa to Miss Alta.
“And anyway,” said Kitty, “how could you of known it was hers—that pattern–for they’re all on the shelves lumped together with no way to tell who made what.”
“It’s all right, Miss,” said Louisa, throwing a look at Kitty, “We know we’re not meant to stand apart from one another. And Kitty and Sarah Ruth here, why, their stuff’s as lovely as can be too. Now, would you like to try it yourself?”
“Shall I?” Miss Alta said to Mr. Somerday.
“And why not?” he smiled. “Your fingers are certainly slender enough for fine work such as these ladies do.”
“Ladies!” giggled Kitty, while the other two smiled and blushed.
They showed Miss Alta how to sit for the task. “Now first,” said Louisa, “look here.” She held out her hands, palms up. “See the ends of my fingers?” she said.
“Oh my,” said Miss Alta, “They look…”
All three laughed again. “Much like cow hide?” said Louisa. “Go ahead, Miss Alta, if you don’t mind. Feel Kitty’s and then mine.”
“And mine,” said Sarah Ruth.
Miss Alta felt their fingers. “Well, yes,” she said, “you are right. They feel much like Bodger’s leash.”
The girls looked at each other and laughed when she said it which made Miss Alta blush as bright as a raspberry.
“I’m sorry!” she said. “That was very rude.”
“Not at all,” said Mr. Somerday, looking at the girls. “You took no offense?”
“No, no offense,” said Sarah Ruth, “and we offered, didn’t we. But they’re something, ain’t they, these fingers of ourn. My mam, who plaited for ever so long, used to tell us that work changes a body– and this is what she meant by it. Her own fingers was so rough from the years of it that she used to say she couldn’t feel her own baby’s cheek.”
“That’s right,” I said, “that’s exactly it.”
“Let me see how to do it,” said Miss Alta.
“Are you sure, Miss?” said Sarah Ruth. “For you’ll be bleeding afore you’ve even begun.”
“Let her try on that miscolored rye, there,” said Kitty. “Beggin’ your pardon, Miss. For we must keep the pretty stuff back.”
“Of course,” said Miss Alta. “That’s wise.”
“Very wise,” agreed Mr. Somerday.
“Hold it this way,” said Louisa. “You must hold seven strands at once, do you see?”
“Yes,” said Miss Alta, “but they’re quite stiff! My word! How do you make them do as you wish!”
“We wet ‘em, is what,” said Sarah Ruth. “See the vat there?”
“Your fingers is so white!” said Kitty absently.
“Kitty!” said Louisa.
“Oh, Miss,” said Kitty, alarmed. “I’m sure I didn’t mean anything. I’m sure I didn’t.”
“I know, Kitty,” said Miss Alta. “Just show me how to bend this without breaking it. I cannot see how to do it at all.”
“Here, Miss,” said Sarah Ruth, “here’s a rhyme we say to help us learn when we’re little: over one, under two….”
“….pull it tight, and that will do,” Louisa and Kitty and I finished for her, which I have knowed that rhyme all my life.
“Same old song,” I said, and the girls smiled.
They helped Miss Alta for a quarter of an hour. Mr. Somerday watched, throwing compliments at her for trying. Finally her fingers were about as pricked as she could bear.
“I must stop,” she said, “but thank you for showing me.”
“Well now you know,” said Louisa, smiling.
“It ain’t easy to do is it?” said Kitty. “Now you know, for you’ve tried it yourself.”
I looked hard at Kitty to see if she was whinging, for Miss Maria don’t stand for whinging here at Longmeadow.
“No, indeed,” said Miss Alta. “It obviously takes a great deal of skill.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Somerday, “I have heard visitors say that your shop is the jewel of Longmeadow for the quality of the work you do. It’s a favorite.”
I saw Miss Alta look at him but as usual, I couldn’t tell nothing from her expression. Lord, that girl keeps it in. It may be that she had the same question in her mind as did I.
Which was that I wondered if Mr. Somerday had spoke a little out of turn, which he didn’t mean to do it. But here at Longmeadow, we try not to talk about which shop is favorite or which jam turned out best or whose chickens lay the biggest eggs. I might know my cherry cordial is ten miles better than Mrs. Johnston’s, but I know better than to say it out loud. One, it ain’t polite to Lord things over. Two, it don’t make for a peaceful feeling betwixt us all.
But Kitty ain’t known for her brains. When she heard what Mr. Somerday said about their shop being a jewel, she turned to the other girls and said “Haven’t I told you it was so?” which it looked like they had often discussed this very thing. I noticed: Louisa bit her lip and sneaked a look at Sarah Ruth which it seemed like she had come upon a snarl in her plaiting.
I might have reminded Kitty that we’re all for one and one for all, like Miss Maria says, but Miss Alta said very quick, “Mrs. Tell, did you say you had an errand? Mr. Somerday and I will visit Ben’s shop while you’re occupied and wait in the trap for you if you like.” So Kitty got away scot free which she was lucky this time.
In truth, I took Kitty’s meaning clear enough. It ain’t nothing but pure human nature to hold yourself next to your neighbor, to see who’s done better. Everyone does it, no matter if we should or shouldn’t. When the county holds a fair-day, Mrs. Johnston don’t sleep a wink for her careful icing of her Longmeadow White Cake for which she has took top prizes. The younger children show lambs, and the older, hogs, and they are praised and made much of for any honors they get. Miss Maria don’t attend the fairs but I describe the award ceremonies to her if she asks.
“Lord,” I said to her just two week ago, “you should have seen Mrs. Miller when that gooseberry jam took first place. Twas as if she was Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar, looking this a’way and that a’way for people to notice her, and smiling as broad as pie. I was standing right next to her and, as I am a Christian woman and was feeling charitable just then, I did not bother to say to her that that jam was a cooperating effort, no I didn’t, and you’ll forgive me, Miss Maria, ‘cause it would have broke her heart right in two to have it pointed out to her. So I let it lay.”
Such pridefulness worries Miss Maria. Trying to best your neighbor just don’t fly at such a place as Longmeadow where the first idea is of equalness. Mr. Charles and Miss Maria tried from the beginning to lead us away from contests where a winner meant losers. Mr. Charles would have liked to ban the county fairs entire which even he could see that them Longmeadows would rise up in revolution if he did, so he gave up the idea.
And so, Mr. Charles and Miss Maria put a stop to races and contests, and instead said us sermons on hoops for the children and dancing and singing for adults. At our fetes we play Blind Man’s Bluff, but not croquet; we don’t have no contests of strength, but instead the young men chase a greased pig which can be done best when all work together toward the common goal.
But I understand the plaiting girls. They do not care to be unknown. They’d like a little credit. They’re just girls and they wish for special treatment. Likely that’s true of all them who work the shops and farms of Longmeadow, from the great ones to the small.
Today was too bright a day for Miss Alta to leave the house; I believe she spent her time back with them creepy things she likes so much and then in her mother’s office adding figures. At teatime, the doorbell rang and there stood Mr. Somerday, which he might as well walk in without ringing, for he’s come for tea every day since he landed at Longmeadow, more or less. I brought him into the parlor and went to tell her. I found her in the morning room now that the sun was in the west, sitting in a window-seat reading one of her Red Indian books.
I made Lil bring the tea. This was a point of disagreement between Miss Maria and Mr. Charles for a time, whether it was proper to have a girl to serve the tea. Mr. Charles said no, no one should serve no one else here at Longmeadow. “God gave me two legs in order that I can fetch my own tea when I want it,” he said. Miss Maria said, yes dear, but what of our guests; they can hardly be expected… They compromised. (I’ll tell you, I believe Grady was mouthing ‘compromise’ before he’d reached six.) Mr. Charles finally put it this way, “All right then, when we have guests, we will have servers who then may learn how to do it, so that if they’d like to explore the world on their own, they’ll have that small skill. Though,” he added, “I have no doubt that they will find, after having lived at Longmeadow, that the real world is not all it ought to be.”
“Yes, dear,” I remember Miss Maria smiling (which smiling was easy for her, for she had won her case to be served, of course) “and then we will welcome them back to us with open arms.”
That made Mr. Charles feel better for he loved to think that if any of us left, it wouldn’t be long before we returned to his fold, hat in hand, shaking our heads at what we’d seen outside of Longmeadow.
I had myself a cup and a chat with Mrs. Johnston back in the kitchen and then made a round of the house, which passed me right by the parlor, where Miss Alta and Mr. Somerday sat together as they drank their tea.
“Oh no, Alta,” I heard Mr. Somerday say through the doorway, “I am sure you are quite wrong. I am certain that…what did you call her?”
“Whistling Bird,” said Miss Alta.
“…Whistling Bird did what she did for love. I am sure that she was loved fully by her husband and he by her, though he was white, and she red. Her devotion illustrates it, does it not? Why else would she have died for him, as she did?”
I recognized the story. Often of a evening Miss Alta will read aloud from one of her Wild West books, and if I am about, I will listen. I remembered this one: when this Whistling Bird (what sort of name is that, for the dear Lord’s sake) was but a young girl, she was taken from her tribe by a white man who was out hunting and came upon her in the wood and was besmitten. He married her though how Christian that wedding was, I cannot tell you. Some years later, her own people robbed her back to them, but by that time she loved him, so she starved herself to death when they would not let her return to him who she thought of as her husband.
Miss Alta spoke next. “I cannot say whether indeed she loved him or not, Mr. Somerday. It may be that she didn’t. It may be that her devotion was borne of duty and nothing more.”
I was surprised to hear Miss Alta say such. When she read the story to Miss Juliet, both young ladies sighed about the lovey part of it. Once, I catched eyes with Miss Maria about it and we both smiled like we was having a secret together. Young girls will believe in violets and roses, and who’s to tell ‘em they oughtn’t?
“Alta, you are a cynic!” I heard Mr. Somerday say. “I wouldn’t have thought it of you!”
I listened but she did not answer for a moment. And then she did.
“Well,” she said, “I suppose I wonder about them, Mr. Somerday. It seems to me that when first they laid eyes on one another, they must each have felt a shock, as one feels when presented with something unfamiliar and perhaps bizarre. He must have seemed feeble to her; she must have seemed coarse to him. It seems more likely that they felt antipathy rather than attraction. And then, you see, to have had to overcome such….disgust?”
“But Alta, they surely found each other’s trueness through their actions. And in this way became beautiful to each other. All depends on the beholder, you know. In their case, love seems to have surrounded them like a flowering vine, blocking out any weeds of distaste at such a small a thing as a difference of feature.”
“So,” said Miss Alta quite slow, “it does not seem impossible to you, Mr. Somerday, to love someone who is so apart from you that they seem, perhaps, as if they were of an entirely different species?”
“Not at all, Alta. Not for me anyhow. I believe I could grow to love any pure heart, no matter her country, her language, her dress, her color.”
And then, as I listened, I saw what it was I’d missed. I don’t miss much, but I’d missed this.
My local NPR station which is all I ever listen to—except I’m trying to listen to country music some in order to expand my horizons but so far, all I like is the ladies of country, but maybe give me some time—anyhow, my NPR station gives away vacations at its yearly pledge drives. I lust after one of those trips. They begin with a trip to Paris and then someone wins and you hear them scream, “you’re kidding,” to the guy who tells them they won. And then comes the Rome trip and then London–so they always play the London Calling song—and I always hope that they’ll call me. And then comes Australia and I shrug.
Maybe my lack of enthusiasm about Australia lies in the fact that Captain Kangaroo kind of creeped me out when I was a kid.
Or, maybe it’s because I come from a long line of Eastern Europeans whose favorite vegetables were those of the root variety because that’s what grows where it’s cold. While my people may have sprung from the desert, they mostly ended up in the snowy fields of more northern lands– where we hung out for a couple of millennia—and which is why all our festive foods seem to be based on those that are grown underground where they’re protected from the frost. Anyhoo, with me, anyway, the temperature of our new homeland took and held fast. Some like it hot but I ain’t one of ‘em. My last name—or my dad’s—though of course it’s mine, too—translates to “a person from a cold village.” Which reminds me of how the Icelanders have taken a giant step into the future with their “dottir” and “son” surnames which why can’t we do that?
Also, I once saw a House Hunters International Extreme Something or Other Edition episode which showed a lovely young couple—he an Ozzie (which I just read is another way to say Aussie), she a Dane—who moved to some hellhole in the middle of the outback or the never never or whatever it is so that he could get a mining job and
since it’s always like 400 degrees there, the only way humans can survive is to live in caves underground which they build and then line with cement. Which, I don’t know about you, but I kinda like a window? I saw that episode like three years ago and I still think about that young rather waifish Danish woman and hope she was stronger than she looked on tv.
So maybe my apathy towards Australia is based entirely on climate. Could be.
But let me say this: I thought to myself, well gosh, Australia is a whole big continent and maybe they have all kinds of weather and what I think I know isn’t exactly what is fact? So I looked it up and in fact, the climate of the whole landmass seems to gravitate between quite warm and hellish. So now I feel all self-righteous.
Now: because my imagination is worn out like an old shoe, I tend to incline towards themes—because themes make life easier to digest– so this past week I had myself a little Australia fest. They banned plastic bags. They banned guns. What’s not to like? Not that Australia needs me and my approval. But hell, why not give it a chance, I said to myself.
My festival was comprised of a novel and a movie and in fact, I had a pretty good time. Of Killers and Thieves (which is sort of a lame title but oh well), is by a young man named Paul Howarth and is due in February of 2018 which is any moment now unless President Dumbass puts us into the middle of a nuclear nightmare which, like, seriously? Is there no one to stand up and say, “President Dumbass, have you no decency, sir?” And by no one I mean no Republican who actually plans to stay in office?
To continue. Mr. Howarth’s novel which is his first, is a big-time page turner but it’s also damn good and maybe even important. Talk about Black Lives Matter. Lord, God.
Here’s a question. Which of the following is worse?
kidnapping a bunch of people from their homes so they can do all the work you don’t want to have to pay someone to do which oh my god, of COURSE, the Civil War was about State’s Rghts. THE STATES’ RIGHTS TO KEEP BLACK PEOPLE ENSLAVED, THAT IS.
(And another thing: if, say, I was German and every day as I walked to my college classes I had to pass a statue of Goebbels? Well hell, yes, I’d be pissed. And hurt. And resentful. And then, when I grew up and became, say, an orthopedic surgeon, I’d have to be careful to treat my German patients just as carefully as I did my non-German patients because I was still pissed, all those years later, that they hadn’t taken down the DAMN STATUE OF SILENT SAM I MEAN GOEBBELS when they had the fucking chance.) (That this is a stretched comparison hasn’t escaped my eagle-eye but I’m guessing it’s not so out of shape that you don’t take the point.)
(In fact, I myself would be a crappy surgeon due to I panic, but my point is that certainly you’d like to think you always rise above the idiocy of others and turn the other cheek and be noble, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, but even orthopedic surgeons are just humans, and if one of them left her scalpel in somebody’s leg by mistake due to a lifetime of being pissed off, well, you see where I’m going. Which is the big fat stupid human cycle of who hurt who first.)
2) you invade a landmass and then go about trying to exterminate all the indigenous people which, hey, doesn’t that sound sort of familiar?
Answer: both are worse.
Anyhow, Of Killers and Thieves is about a white family scraping by in the Australia of 1880. Brutality and horror and violence abound like kangaroos hop. Which, like, can you call it gratuitous if it’s all absolutely true? Me, I have nothing against violence in a novel, nothing at all.
For example, The Orphan Master’s Son made me want to throw up and still does when I recall certain particular scenes, but I think it’s one of the best novels of the last five years. One time, Adam Johnson who is the author of The Orphan Master’s Son came into the bookstore in which I bide some time and I told him that his book made me want to throw up and he said, “thanks,” and I said, “you’re welcome.” It was a pleasant exchange.
Speaking of North Korea which is what Orphan Master is about: the president of these United States is, as I write this, embarking on a tour of Asia with Melania, bless her heart. At the Women’s March, the best sign I saw said, “Free Melania.” Anyhow, like many Americans, I feel this uncomfortable sensation in the back of my throat—sort of like the marriage of a nervous giggle and a gag reflex—at the speculation of what Our National Embarrassment might say or do in front of the good people of Japan, say, or China. Maybe he’ll say, “What, rice again?” or “I bet she has a nice little figure under that hanbok,” or maybe, “Yes this chicken is okay, but not as good as P. F. Chang’s.”
But back to Australia. I raced my way through Of Killers and Thieves and enjoyed it very much in the same way that you enjoy pulling a splinter out from underneath your fingernail. I recommend it heartily. It’s about race, is what it’s about, and while it reads in some parts like a wish rather than a reality, in the end it doesn’t leave you so hopeless that you want to go live in a cave lined with cement.
So the next part of my Australia-fest was a movie. I watched Australia, the big epic blockbuster-that-totally-busted by Baz Luhrmann, with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. It pretty much sucks but it has its good points, one of which is that it’s really long, which I like a long movie. It’s like that old joke about how awful the restaurant was: the food is terrible and the portions are tiny.
Anyhoo, the Kidman Jackman (see, in Iceland, there’s be “woman” somewhere around there) did what it could to keep the movie above water but it pretty much drowned under the weight of its efforts to be sweeping. But there is a cute kid actor. And horses. And lots of Australian scenery and, if you like the simplicity of cardboard characters and good vs. evil, it has a nice satisfying end. Just don’t ask too much of it and you’ll be okay.
The best part is the narration which is by the cute kid actor and is in the parlance of the blackfella (not my word). An interesting part of Australia is certainly the treatment of the Aboriginals which we used to call them Aborigines. Which reminds me: yeah, you go ahead and say “Se-vee-yah” for Seville and you go ahead and say “Buddha Pesht” for Budapest but howcum you’re not saying “Par-ee” for Paris, hm? But, I’m aware that there are linguistic chic-nesses just as there are in literature which, for example, Steinbeck is outre but he might come back.
Anyhow, often, movies and novels tend to treat the Aboriginals like happy peasants at one with their universe (Australia for sure does it, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does it, Of Killers and Thieves does it to a much lesser extent, but it’s not entirely absent even there). Which is how the more innocent among us view the Native American tribes we endeavored so hard to destroy—as happy natives—when they killed each other plenty, just as much as we’ve all murdered our neighbors, and since the dawn of man. My point is that there’s probably not that many happy peaceful native tribes on this good earth anyway because why? Because everyone is just a person and people when stressed– which when are we not– are just assholes.
My great loss of innocence re: the dearth of the simple happy peasant occurred over years but epiphanied one day in the shower (don’t ask me why) when I realized that the sweet rose-covered cottages of the English countryside were a) probably not rose-covered and b) probably packed with a widow and her children eating clay from their yard for lack of anything better.
And if you think about it, those happy English peasants, if they stole a loaf of bread? Or poached? They were probably either hanged or, if they were lucky, packed up on a boat and sent off to Australia. Like Pip’s sponsor in Great Expectations, remember?
Life’s a big circle, ain’t it. For better and worse.
Next theme: could be the Ozarks, cuz I’m reading Winter’s Bone which wasn’t that a great movie?
Mr. Somerday accompanies me on my rounds. We ride side by side on grey days, and on the sunny ones, I seek the shelter of the trap while he reins his horse alongside me. I’ve always felt proud of Longmeadow, both for its ancient lineage and its modern ideas. But Mr. Somerday’s enthusiasm helps me to see the place with new eyes.
He is enthusiastic about all of Longmeadow: he admires the land itself; he admires the people who work it; he admires Grady for his patience; he admires the turn of Ben Mangum’s lathe; he admires the high ideals of the place and the straw-plaiting girls’ skill equally. As well as much else. He waxes eloquent on my parents’ work and speaks about them with high regard.
“Really, Alta, it’s wonderful, Longmeadow is. I have looked a bit into other places that make similar claims and there’s no comparison.”
“Yes,” I called to him from within the trap. We were on our way to Arum House for a look-see. “I agree. My father wished not to repeat the mistakes of others, he said.”
Mr. Somerday nodded. “And from what I’ve read, failures are plentiful. Places like Longmeadow usually don’t last. I have read that it is hard to make a go of them.”
Look at how the sun dapples his white shirt as he rides along. If I had the skill, I’d like to paint a portrait of that shirt.
“Oh! Yes, Father used to call it a labor of love. He and my mother spoke about it at supper very often: how it is, for example that one may wish to improve a person who may prefer to remain…”
“Yes. One reason for Longmeadow’s success may be its mildness. Some of the communities were quite extreme,” I told him. “Oneida, for example.” Immediately, I regretted my words. I felt myself blush fiercely from my seat inside the trap. I hoped Mr. Somerday would not ask me to elaborate.
I had my information on Oneida from a treatise in Father’s locked desk which I had opened without permission. Lord, some of those images may never leave me.
“And the Shakers,” said Mr. Somerday.
“Mmm,” I said. I wished I had not opened this Pandora’s box.
“Why did they shake, do you imagine?” he inquired seriously.
I said nothing.
“Alta,” he said more loudly, “why do you suppose they shook?”
I think I sighed. “I imagine…I believe it had to do with…”
Mr. Somerday did not take the hint.
“With what? I am having trouble hearing you. Suppose I climb in beside you and Rudo can trot behind? This topic is quite interesting.”
“They shook to rid themselves of their animal urges!” I yelped out as quickly as I could.
He looked surprised—had I shocked him yet again?– and then he laughed loudly.
“Alta!” he said, “You are quite a girl. You do a fellow good!”
I was glad he thought so.
I have rarely visited Arum House. Mostly, I do not care to meet the ladies. On the rare occasions that one or another of them is invited to take supper at the manor, they treat me as if I am diseased; as if I am quite radical for wishing to dine at my own table and should, out of politeness, dine underneath it instead. At first, Mother urged me to ignore their rudeness, but she has lately relented and, upon the ladies’ infrequent visits, has allowed me to take my meal in the kitchen where I feel more comfortable.
“They’re ghastly,” said Juliet at breakfast once, the morning after one of them had come to supper. “And always all the same. Vastly overdressed and vastly underburdened with the sense God gave to a cat.”
“They are spoiled and bored and therefore mean,” said Mother. “I sometimes think about closing Arum House altogether.”
“Why not do it?” I asked.
“Did you know,” Mother told us, “that the Widows & Orphans is supported almost entirely by the revenues from Arum House? That’s one reason.”
“A valid reason,” I said.
“Another reason is the caliber of guest,” said Juliet. “You can say it, Mama, though it sounds coarse. She wants Longmeadow,” Juliet said to me, “to be talked about at an earl’s table as well as at a dyer’s. Maybe even more.”
Mother looked at Juliet. “Not more, no. But as much. Longmeadow will thrive best if it can appeal to all.”
“Mama,” Juliet had said, “you must take care not to sound too much like a clerk at Harrod’s.”
Mother drew herself up but then suddenly seemed to deflate. “Yes,” she said, sighing. “There are so many things I do for Longmeadow that I never expected to do in my life. Sometimes I feel confused by what I am about.”
Juliet relented. “I’m sorry, Mama,” she said. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”
Mother patted Juliet’s hand.
“Mother,” I said, “it seems strange that Father conceived of such an idea as Arum House in the first place. A holiday place for ladies? Whatever gave him the notion?”
“Oh my,” Mother replied, consulting the little timepiece at her bosom, “is it as late as that? Well, there are things to see to. I’ll see the both of you later at tea.” And she had gone off to her office.
Arum House was as charming to look at as ever. I’d forgotten its prettiness—all those roses. I could just see Mike on the roof, hammer in hand. He tipped his cap to me as Mr. Somerday helped me down from the trap.
As I tied on my sun hat, a plump lady emerged from the house and walked languidly over to the swing, trailing a parasol. I watched as the lady shielded her eyes from the sun with a mitted hand and looked at us, at the landscape, up at Mike on the roof.
I nodded at the lady who appeared not to notice.
I turned back to Mr. Somerday. “The woods here are especially lovely. I should like to walk a bit before we say our hellos inside, but we must seek shade, if you don’t mind.”
“Let’s go this way,” said Mr. Somerday taking my arm. “We’ll have an old-fashioned tromp, shall we?”
Mrs. Grey walked out of the house to greet us—tea? cold water?—and I told her we’d be back in a bit for some refreshment. Off we went. The sun was high and hot but my hat brim, made especially wide for my by the girls in the strawshop, protected me quite well. I’m a good walker.
“Do not dawdle, Mr. Somerday,” I said to him as he stopped here to peer at a fern, there, at a moss. “I will outpace you and lose you and you will worry that you have lost me when in fact I will be back at the trap awaiting you with impatience. Do come along.”
“Coming, coming,” he said, pretending to pant with exertion. In fact, he is quite lean and in no danger of losing breath. It was a great pleasure to be with him in the wood.
“What do you hear from your sister?” he said as we walked.
“She is quite thrilled with herself,” I reported. “She writes that she attends any numbers of parties. She’s become a salon favorite and is asked often to perform. I told her that I expect she’s become very artistic and that when I see her next, she’ll be swathed in veils of red and gold and have taken to kohling her eyes and I shan’t recognize her at all.”
“Well,” said Mr. Somerday, holding a briar away from my skirt as we walked along, “I understand that the urge to ornament one’s person is quite universal, but for my own part, I much prefer what is natural. Watch now, I’m letting go of this briar. Like you, Alta. Unadorned, natural, hair like Titania’s; why, you’re perfect just as you are.”
For a moment, I could not catch my breath.
“Well in that case,” I made myself answer, “you would not, I think, care overmuch for Olive Oatman.”
“Olive Oatman. She was captured by the Yavapai Indians of the Arizona territory. They tattooed her chin to show that she was their slave. She was later rescued but the tattoo remained, of course.”
“My God,” said Mr. Somerday. “Poor girl.”
“Well,” I said, “but think of the adventure. And she came out of it all right.”
‘But for the tattoo,” he said.
My heart was still beating hard from his compliment. I had never received one from a man before except for Father. The artists, Mother’s friends, and those visitors who came to supper—they might laugh at my jokes or nod at my comments. They might tell me that they were pleased to see me looking well. They might smile and even kiss my hand, but never had one of them told me that I possessed hair like Titania’s.
We walked on. My eyes are bad but my hearing, quite good. “What was that?” I said low. We both stopped. It had occurred to me, and must have to him as well, that the last time we were in each other’s company in such a landscape, the stag lay dead.
Mr. Somerday whispered, “I think it came from over there,” and sprinted in the wrong direction. I stood where I was until I heard the sound again. One more step and then I saw: the plump lady from Arum House, her back against a tree, her bustle quite flattened behind her. The man in her embrace—it was Mike– had his face pressed to her wide-open bodice as he moved up and down. I heard her moan: that was the sound. I could see the lady’s white skin—not as white as my own of course—shining in the sunlight.
I backed away as quietly as I could and then I ran—in the direction of the house and of Mr. Somerday, whom I wished both to see and not see, at once.
Lord knows Miss Alta’s sharp. Talk to her once, and you’ll know it too. Miss Maria was wise to pass her on some responsibilities, even for just the few weeks as she’ll be gone. It’s good for a young person to have a task set before them, even if they’re a young lady. This is something Mr. Charles said and he was right.
Better too much to do than too little–too little and a person can run amuck. If you was to ask me I’d tell you that’s half the problem with them ladies at Arum House. They ought to come to Longmeadow for the fresh air but instead they come bored and looking to adventure.
Miss Alta takes her new duties quite serious. Each and every morning she bids me good-bye and tells me where she’s off to, just as her mother does when she goes out. This way, if Grady needs a decision, or anyone else does, he can know where to find her fast, through me.
“Grady,” said I, “You find Miss Alta and ask her some small thing even if it’s summat you could do yourself with your eyes half-open. It won’t hurt to make her feel a bit of her own importance, especially…” He understood what I was about, which I will tell you: Miss Alta must be brave to go out even though she wears that veil. We’re used to her but some of us stare nonetheless. But Grady’s a good boy and he does what I tell him. He told me about it later.
“I said, ‘Miss Alta, there’s a late calf due tonight. The farmer must decide whether to keep it or butcher it.’”
“And what did she say to that?” said I, thinking that if it was Miss Juliet, she’d have said oh, do let it live.
Grady grinned. “She had a pretty answer, to be sure,” said he. “She said, ‘Well, Grady, what do you advise?’ and I said, ‘Well, I think we could sell a good piece of veal for a pretty penny as well as the goldbeaters need some gut, if you don’t mind the term Miss Alta.’”
I smiled back at him, for in truth it was a bit funny to say ‘gut’ to a young lady but what else might you call it when that’s the only word for it?
Grady’s mouth twitched. “She said, ‘Better to sell the dogie Grady, if you think it’s best.’”
“What’s she mean by dogie?”
“She said that’s what the cowboys in America call calves is dogies.”
I was glad to see Grady grin. He hadn’t much, since the murder.
Things is nice and quiet what with Miss Maria gone away and Miss Juliet, both. I have been troubled in my mind about Miss Juliet for some time: she’s a young lady who likes to have her own way and her own say more than’s good for her. It’s time she was married or engaged to be, at least. Take my Nan: a whole year younger than Miss Julie and happy as a little pearl in a oyster.
Yes, if you was to ask me, I’d say that Miss Juliet needs a nice match made for her. And she’s a girl who might have right many a suitor. Her line is pure aristocratic, her expectations large and she’s a beauty when she ain’t looking at you like she’d like to bite you or laugh at you, one.
Trouble is when you’re a girl in the countryside like Miss Juliet is, you must depend upon your mother to help you in that regard. You must have London seasons and make calls. I have a cousin who cooks in a big house near Devon and can speak of little else than her young mistresses when she visits, which she has done twice. She describes how her mistress schemes every day about who she can marry her two daughters off to.
“Every other weekend, a house party,” grumbled my cousin, “with more roasts and puddings and pluckings than Christmas dinner. Mistress says it’s so young men can come to hunt though the truth is what she hopes for is for them to bag one of them young ladies.”
“Is they plain, then, that it’s so hard to marry them off?” I asked.
“Certainly not,” said my cousin, glaring, which I was glad to see because I like loyalty, “they’re both very pretty, indeed. But all the high-born young men want Americans these days—Americans with their fortunes. A English girl don’t hardly stand a chance.”
Now this ain’t a problem for Miss Juliet. Her fortune’s as fine as any American’s,
I daresay. What she don’t have is a mother who has the time or the inclination to look around. Perhaps now that Miss Julie’s in London, she’ll land someone on her own. We can hope for it.
It’s different for Miss Alta, of course.
I recall back when Mr. Charles was alive, back when he was making his changes to Longmeadow, a family called the Faniels came to visit from America, with their two yellow-haired boys. I think of ‘em often, for I blame Arum House on them. I know I ought not to and yet I do. I ought not to blame them for it, for they was trying to get out of something very like, back in America. They’d tried it and hadn’t liked it and Mr. Faniel had wrote a article about it which Mr. Henry read and then invited the whole family of them to come to England and visit. So, see, the Faniels was rushing away from sin and yet still I blame them for it. And I can’t help but think of them when I think of Arum House. Mrs. Johnston’s that way with Bodger, for she was bit by a big dog when she was but a girl. “But, Ellen,” I say, “Bodger won’t hurt you.” She knows it but she’ll avoid him if she can.
When I think of Miss Alta and her prospects, I think of them two Faniel boys, both tow-headed and freckle-faced, sitting in my kitchen eating at my table next to Miss Juliet and Miss Alta when they were but young theirselves. I had give ‘em all bread and butter, I recall, and I noticed that them boys had thanked me very nice when I gave them their slices.
“What sort of name is Verdy?” said Miss Alta to the younger one as the four of them sat at table together.
“Name of a Greek god,” said Verdy, munching. “Vertumnus, god of vegetables and stuff.”
“Vegetables!” said Miss Juliet.
“What’s yours from?” said Miss Alta to the older boy they called Ero.
“His is a god too,” said Verdy. “Eros.”
“Oh!” said Miss Alta.
I turned to see the boy shrug and redden some, which I thought must be that name or else he’d spilled something.
“Miss Juliet, Miss Alta,” said I very quick, “have you finished? Take the young gentlemen to play if you have.”
“She called us young gentlemen!” crowed Verdy.
“And what should I call you?” I said, turning and smiling, for he was a lovely child after all.
“They’re just boys,” said Miss Juliet, brushing crumbs. “Come along. There’s a swing out here.” She and the younger boy ran out the door.
“Are you coming too?” said Ero to Miss Alta as they stood.
“No,” said Miss Alta. “I prefer to stay inside.”
She didn’t, but I could see: she’d never say it was the sun.
The boy shrugged and turned.
“Perhaps Mr. Ero would like to see the library?” said I.
Miss Alta looked at him. I read that look. She wanted him to choose her and what she could offer. Her hope for it was in her face.
“Why would I?” said Mr. Ero, stepping from behind the table. “Which way’s the swing?” and he was gone.
If I could have, I’d have put my handprint on that boy’s cheek quick enough for rudeness. I looked at Miss Alta to shake my head over it, but when she looked back at me, her face was as flat as glass. I think she see’d her life stretched in front of her just then and I will admit to you: I did not know how to comfort that girl who wouldn’t never have even such simple things as others have. But she didn’t want my pity, it was clear. She turned away and left the kitchen.
Yesterday, I carried some broth down to Longmeadow Village for old Miss Cripps who is ailing. Miss Maria had asked me to visit her so I did it. I’ll tell you what I understood: Miss Maria did not like to ask Miss Alta to do it. Why, you may ask? Because Miss Cripps is right ancient and as Miss Maria says it, “her superstitions get the best of her.” What that means is that Miss Cripps might not be past saying something to hurt Miss Alta’s feelings. And it’s true enough: some of them old ones still talk about faeries and hexes. They might refuse to open the door for Miss Alta if she was to show up on their doorstep, broth or no broth. I almost told Miss Maria to let Miss Cripps find her own soup, but I held my tongue for she’s infirm in a way I’m grateful I ain’t.