Monthly Archives: February 2013
The young Nepthalia had always loved spring, because it meant her forced seclusion was at an end.
The unpaved country roads were no longer ice but had not yet turned to mud. The snow slowly disappeared from the wheat fields. Travel was possible; and not just the one trip into town during the week and another to church on Sunday. Nepthalia could visit her friends and “neighbors” (though, as she had always said, it was hard to call expanses of 200-acre farms a “neighborhood”).
The young Jill, on the other hand, hated spring, because it meant the other girls in school would soon sport their new spring clothes. Some of those girls would challenge parents and administrators with the clothes’ shortness, tightness, and risqué T-shirt slogans.
To Jill it was all vanity, frivolity, idiocy. Jill hated teenagers. She was so glad she really wasn’t one. Whenever Jill needed a mental escape from the stupidity and puerility around her, she remembered her previous life as Nepthalia, a pioneer wheat farmer from the 1900s.
Nepthalia had grown up knowing hard work and few trifles. Everyone in the family had worked on the farm, pretty much as soon as they could walk or grasp things. Her mother had instilled in her a sense of propriety and morality. As the mother had always explained, men tamed the land and built settlements, but women tamed the men and built communities.
Nepthalia maintained a sense of purpose about her all of her life. Jill tried to do likewise. Jill strove to excel academically, even though she was not naturally “gifted” as a learner. In PE she was never the cutest gymnast or the or the most agile basketball player, but did well enough in track and field activities, where she could achieve a solo goal through intense effort.
Jill also strove to comport herself as a proper, upstanding young lady, just as Nepthalia would have done. It wasn’t easy, at home or especially at school. There, even the “Christian” girls prattled endlessly about clothes and hair and which guys would be the hardest to resist having sex with until they got married. And, yes, the girls ritually giggled at the sound of the word “hardest.” How COMPLETELY juvenile.
But, in Jill’s hierarchy of idiocy, at least these girls pretended to care about family, charity, and achievement. Some other girls in her school didn’t even pretend.
Among the worst offenders, in Jill’s eyes, were Ellen and Tara. Jill had first made enemies with them in sophomore English class. It was they who labeled her “Jill the Pill,” over what they called her “no-fun attitude.” Since then, their vocabulary of insults only grew. To them, and to the school’s other so-called “popular” girls (whom nobody really liked at all), Jill was a scowling hag, a judgmental shrew, the Judge Judy of the school cafeteria, a girl who could be pretty if she wanted to but who deliberately chose to be a homely cow.
So it was on one particularly ill fated afternoon. Jill’s last true friend in school, Roxy, had taken early graduation and, in a Nepthalia phrase that frequently ran through Jill’s head, taken “a fast escape on a slow train.” Jill was alone in a hostile milieu. No one was at her side when the strode purposefully through the hallway. As she opened her locker door, Ellen and Tara snuck up from behind. Jill smelled their bubble-gum breath even before they had a chance to scream something unintelligible at her. She turned around to find them dressed as much like common barroom tarts as their parents and the school would allow.
They stared at her for five long seconds, until Ellen started her trademark nasal drone voice. “You KNOW it’s almost spring break week. It’s warm out, if you didn’t notice. You don’t HAVE to look like you’re about to trudge through a four-foot snowbank.”
Normally Jill would silently ignore the taunts. But this day, she succumbed. In her best trying-my-patience voice, she calmly stated that she “dressed for comfort and for my own tastes, not to appease the judgments of others; especially not the judgments of two insufferable would-be strumpets.”
Ellen and Tara probably didn’t know what the word “strumpet” meant, but they could tell it meant something bad. Tara grabbed the hem of Jill’s wool sweater long enough for Ellen to give Jill an impulsive shove up against the lockers. The scuffle didn’t last long before adults saw and stopped it.
Jill shortly found herself in the office of Principal Maitland, receiving a standard grilling about the incident. The counselor first informed Jill that Ellen and Tara had already claimed, in a separate grilling, that Jill had started it.
In Jill’s past sessions with Ms. Maitland (and there had indeed been several), the principal had been gruff, demanding. But this time, she seemed sympathetic, almost conciliatory. She held a different countenance this day. She looked Jill in the eyes, warmly.
Ms. Maitland said Jill could trust her with “the truth.”
“The truth as it really is,” Jill queried, “or the truth as you want to hear it?”
“The truth as it really is.”
“That’s a long story. A REALLY long story.”
“Then you’d better start telling me now.”
Jill told the “short version” of her story, which was still more than she’d ever told her own mother. She told of knowing since she was seven that she was reincarnated. She told of experiencing this previous life through random memories that came to her, of sights and sounds and smells and sensations and phrases. She told of how she’d never looked up to see whether this pioneer woman had really existed, because “she’s real to me and that’s all that counts.”
Jill told of the lessons she’d learned from Nepthalia’s life of dignified struggle. She told of learning that a woman was only as good as her word, her inner strength, and her ability to resist corruption.
Ms. Maitland said that was all impressive to a point; but that “in the modern world, where most women must expect to work outside the home, it’s just as important to get along with others as it is to pursue individual goals.”
Because Ms. Maitland had copied Jill’s formal, almost stilted way with words without making fun of it, and had looked deep into Jill’s eyes while doing so, Jill felt something she’d rarely felt and Nepthalia had almost never felt. It was the feeling that someone didn’t merely tolerate her, but actually understood her.
Jill’s eyes widened. She relaxed her stiff posture.
“Promise you won’t tell my mom and dad about any of this?”
“Only that you had a loud but short argument in the hallway, and that you’ve assured me it won’t happen again.”
Jill sighed and relaxed a bit more. For a second, Ms. Maitland thought she almost saw a teenage soul inside that teenage body.
“We’ve had a busy day, haven’t we Maggie. A bird day.”
“Yes, Jack, we have.”
We filled the bird feeder and watched the finches and jays and squirrel get all excited. Then we mixed some hummingbird food and filled that feeder.
“Will we get hummingbirds like finches Maggie?”
“That sure would be something, but no. If we get any it will be exciting.”
They tell me the hummingbirds spend the whole winter here. They do not go anywhere else. Hard for me to believe. But there were a couple last summer. They seem to like the hazelnut tree. That weedy thing is good for something I guess. We’d get a lot more hummingbirds at home too. And they were colorful, not the muted ones they get here.
Spring is my favorite time of year, because my forced seclusion is at an end. But here is not home, even if I have found some comfort. Aren’t you supposed to move somewhere warm and bright when you retire? Light seems to be the biggest issue for me. Or is it the rain? Dampness would be more like it. And it never really gets warm. And the colors – green, and gray, occasional blue: a limited palette.
After that we had a snack and decided to take Walter down to the lake.
“Ellie, don’t go too far. And watch that puppy, he’ll pull you over easy as anything. And Jack, you stay out of the street – you hear.”
Maggie. Why do they call me Maggie? Hasn’t anybody heard of grandma? Oh who cares? I guess sometimes I do.
At least I can get these kids out of the house. Not trapped inside by the rain today. The lake is nice enough, and while the birds are different, there are plenty of them. A year ago walking the kids and the dog down to the lake would have taken forever. Those little legs, the side trips, the falls and the tears. But here we are, my third spring here. Jack could find his way to the lake himself now. And don’t even mention a stroller to Ellie. She’ll have none of it.
“Maggie, do you think the duck is here today?
“There’s plenty of ducks here today, sweetie.”
“No, I mean the friendly one – the white one.”
“I don’t know sweetie. We’ll have to see.”
We met a white duck yesterday. Walked right up to the dog. Don’t know about a duck that walks up to a dog like that, or a dog that doesn’t chase it. Walter ain’t smart, but he ain’t that foolish. Could you catch a duck? He doesn’t pull when that little girl is holding him, but when somebody else has the leash he thinks he knows where he might want to go. But he’s too stupid to stay out of the water. Last week he went for a swim and we thought he wasn’t going to make it. Curled up in his blanket for three days. Barely ate. And then it was like he rose from the dead. Hallelujah!
Beth and Henry think the duck was somebody’s pet they did not want to take care of any more. Shameful, really. How do you take on a responsibility like that and then just put it out of the car at the park?
“Maggie, can we go down to the water?”
“Sure sweetie – please take care not to go in. I don’t want you ruining your new shoes.”
I remember swearing that if I had another Spring I’d be thrilled. Three more and I guess I am thrilled, thrilled that there is a chance for more. More what? The kids are great, even if they tire me out and don’t call me grandma. Reduced to food and shelter. No choices or decisions, no worries or disappointment. Waiting and watching.
We have the garden underway. And the daffodils are up. And there are plenty of birds. But I still miss the birds from home. I miss John.
The sun breaks out and I can feel the warmth loosening me up. Pleased to be outside. Ready to make plans. Perhaps I’ll paint my room. Or I’ll get Henry to paint it. The farmer’s market will be open soon. I think if we go with some different varieties we can get more tomatoes this summer.
“Maggie, do you think the duck swam away?”
“No sweetie, she could be anywhere. Ducks swim, but when they want to go somewhere far they fly.”
I hope someone took that duck home. Any duck wanders up to a dog like that is going to have problems sooner than later. That bird was limping too – all I could do not to sweep her up and take her home.
“If we find the duck, can we bring it home? You said it looked lonely. You saw it too.”
“You remember what your Mother and Father said?”
“And Walter is enough. What does Daddy mean that Walter is enough?”
“Your Daddy thinks that one big silly dog tramping around the house is enough. And maybe a duck would not take up too much space, but your Daddy doesn’t want a duck. And it’s his house.”
“Isn’t it our house too Maggie? Shouldn’t we tell Daddy we need a duck?”
“Maybe you should tell him you need one.”
“What does duck rhyme with? Every time I ask Daddy about the duck, he looks at Mom and says ‘you know what duck rhymes with’ and then he laughs.”
“And then Mommy laughs and says, ‘keep dreaming.’ Well, I’m dreaming of a duck.”
“We’ve got the finches as long we fill the feeder. And who knows, maybe soon we’ll have some . . .”
And just like that I saw it. A flash and a zoom by the tree, next to the boat launch. I couldn’t hear it, but it was almost like you could feel the whir. I forgot about everything, almost everything. I gently hushed Ellie, and took her hand, crouched, pointed. We could see the hummingbird hover by the tree. Floating up and down. The three of us standing there slack jawed, watched it hover, then shoot straight up into the sky.
And then miracle of miracles it came back down and let us catch another look. Then up again it went.
Thus distracted, Walter, free, wandered off, his leash trailing behind.
I turned first and saw him rooting in the bushes. He turned, a limp white feathered bundle in his mouth, and he ran.
Miss Lottie’s Café
The neighborhood anchored on the West by Miss Lottie’s Café was where the people who lived in the little six-block square gathered to eat, drink in the Café and do a little shopping in the general store. Saraphina Sullivan’s grandmother was the original Lottie. Her original house converted many years ago had grown to encompass a half a city block by annexing both houses on either side. Now you couldn’t tell where the seams uniting the buildings began or ended.
Saraphina lived alone above the store in a very spacious apartment. She ventured outside the neighborhood occasionally but preferred to stay centered in her own prosperous domain.
Around the corner the church sat regally on the north side of the square looming like a brick and mortar Pope with it’s high steeple and steep stairway flanked by green lawns and well-tended flowers. The rest of the neighborhood was composed of older single-family houses a few duplexes and on the southeast corner a medium sized apartment building, the Maxwell.
Saraphina woke up most days at five-thirty, ate a healthy breakfast or rather drank her green smoothie, something she enjoyed only because it was suppose to make her healthier, skinnier and for all she knew smarter and wealthier. She took pride in being a very fit middle-aged successful business owner.
Her customers were for the most part denizens of the neighborhood. Lately, however, new customers were invading her café to immerse themselves in its old world charm and the healthy soul food she served. The general store provided her neighbors with ordinary groceries, drug store sundries, gifts and trinkets so that if necessary you wouldn’t ever have to go outside the square unless you needed a change of scenery.
Monday mornings usually slow gave her a chance to catch up with the neighbors on all the gossip from happenings on the weekend. Saraphina went downstairs to open up but as soon as she turned on the open sign there were footsteps and a tap on the windowsill.
“Charise, good morning. This is your day off isn’t it?” Saraphina said as she opened the door.
“Oh Sara P, I just had to stop by before I left.” She said as she sat down heavily at one of the oilskin-covered tables.
“I’ll put on the tea pot. Tell me. What’s happened now?”
“Saraphina, I have to go, today for sure. I’ve been thinking about what I would do if something happened and now it has.”
“Hold on a sec, the tea is almost ready. Here take your time tell me what’s going on. Saraphina was used to drama. She was the go to person in the square yenta, nurse and confessor.
“I knew messing around with him was gonna turn out bad. I’m going to California to stay with my sister. She needs a babysitter and I can make a fresh start.”
“What all happened?”
“You haven’t heard? No, you couldn’t have. Well, a couple of nights ago I get a phone call from Alvin, Mr. Boom Boom Harris. I thought he was going to tell me he was finally leaving Octavia, that bitch, but he told me that he’s changed that he is staying with her that she needs him and not only that but they are getting married, a big church wedding too. He told me to never call him. He told me to throw away anything he had given me and he was going to burn everything I gave to him. Last night everybody found out because Octavia posted the news on Facebook.”
“Damn girl, you are in a mess of trouble. You will be much better off getting away from him. When are you thinking of taking off? I’ll have to get someone to replace you here at the café.”
“I’m leaving today. I’m flying out this afternoon. Thank god I don’t have any loose ends here so I’m free to go.”
“Now Cherise, Stay in touch OK. I’m sorry you had to be so hurt by that man but it is probably better for you in the long run. You’ll be all right. Do you have enough money?”
“Yeah, My sister is very generous and she is paying me really good to watch the kids.”
Saraphina heard Jo come in the back as she was seeing Charise off. She’d just recently hired Jo. Everyone knew about Jo and there was a strong feeling in the community that supported Jo and also wanted the Reverend off the pulpit because of his nefarious deeds. Saraphina was grateful that Jo was such a good worker. Her sheer strength made life easier for Saraphina.
Jo loved working at Miss Lottie’s. She felt very fortunate to have landed good employment but also felt that her good luck had everything to do with meeting Miss Birdie. Since that fateful meeting in early spring their friendship had blossomed. Jo was able to help Birdie feel safer and her paranoia was in control. What was once just a friendship was becoming more and more serious. They never referred to the vast difference in their ages or backgrounds.
This morning as Birdie lay in bed watching Jo get dressed for work she said, “Jo I had a dream last night. It was about the Reverend.”
“Shit, we haven’t had enough time to set him up like we planned. I have been so busy I’ve almost forgotten about his trifling ass.”
“My dream was so real. I saw him struggling to breathe. He was in dire distress. His pants were down around his ankles and there were a couple of naked girls screaming for help. It was a very graphic dream and I know it must be true.”
“Hallelujah! The bitch is dead. Well maybe not dead but definitely fucked up!” Jo shouted.
“Now Jo, remember it was just a dream. We’ll have to see if something real has happened or not. You’d better get to work. You don’t want to be late. We’ll know today what happened. Kiss me goodbye my girl and let me know if you find out anything.”
Back at the café, Jo finished her morning chores and waited anxiously for any neighborhood news. Saraphina filled her in on Charise having to leave town and that she needed to find another worker for the café.
Jo said, “I’ll try and help as much as I can but I really ain’t a waitress. A great cook yes.”
“I’ll be alright today it’s usually slow on Monday mornings.”
The door swung open and in rushed a very distraught young woman. One of the girls that Saraphina knew lived at the Reverends “house”.
“Can I help you?” Hearing her comforting voice the girl broke down and started crying.
“Oh my God, what am I going to do now?”
“What’s the matter girl maybe I can help.” Saraphina sat the girl down while Jo went to fetch a cup of tea.
“You won’t believe what happened last night.”
“Trust me I’ve seen a lot in my years around here.” Saraphina confided.
“No one knows yet. The Reverend Perkins. He’s had a massive stroke. He’ s in the hospital. Oh, it was horrible. We were just having a night of it, me and the other girl and him. Suddenly he starts threshing around like he can’t breath and he …oh it was awful. I called 911 and they carted him away. The emergency guys said he was as good as dead. What am I going to do, how am I going to live?”
“Shhhh, stop your crying. I’ll try and help you. What’s your name? You can stay here till we sort you out.”
“My name is Evealynn. Thank you I can work. I don’t want handouts.”
Jo slipped out the back and over to Birdie to tell her the news. “Ding Dong the Bitch is Dead.” She sang out kicking up her heels with glee.
Circle Takes the Square
Saraphina opened the café as she usually did right at seven AM and as she did she thought about all the changes that has taken place in the neighborhood this past year. Evealynn arrived right after she opened, seven-o-five to be exact. “Good morning Evie, looks like spring is going to arrive early this year.”
Yes, it’s quite warm already and the birds are chirping like crazy.”
The small talk was interrupted by the arrival of Jo coming in as usual by the back door of the café. “Good morning ladies. Glorious morning ain’t it.”
“How are you feeling Jo? “ Saraphina said. “You’re getting awfully big.”
“I’m feeling great. I’m quite happy with this big growing belly of mine. Birdie has already decided that we are going to have a big beautiful baby girl. That’s what she says anyway and you both know she does know what’s going to happen before anyone knows, even God.”
“Oh Jo, I’m so happy for you too.” Evealynn went over and rubbed Jo’s large belly. “You and Miss Birdie are gonna be the best parents. I know I’m being nosey but what do you think she’ll look like you or…?”
Jo started laughing so hard she had to sit down. “Evealynn let me explain to you the facts of gay life. We asked for a tall, Chinese, smart—no brilliant sperm. So the baby should look like me tall, dark and handsome plus Birdie, short, Asian and smart. I just know she will be beautiful and I am going to be the best “daddymom” in the world.”
“Yes I think so too. I’m going to be the best godmother for sure.” Saraphina said sitting down next to Jo and gently stroked her short nappy head. “You are just like family to me Jo and you too Evealynn. Speaking of family what have you heard about our new pastor?”
“Girl next week we will have the honor of officially welcoming our new pastor Mr. Preacher, Alvin, “Boom Boom” Harris to the church.” Evealynn raised her cup of tea for a toast. “Here’s to our “better than the last one” new preacher. I think he will be good for our little square. He did change for the better.”
Saraphina sat quietly looking out the window at the street waking up to such a fine morning. She thought about how much her business had grown in the past year with so many “urban tourists” discovering her homegrown soul kitchen. She sipped some tea and said, “ I got a call from Cherise yesterday. You remember Cherise who used to work here last year. I guess she’s doing fine living with her sister’s family now.”
What she didn’t tell the others was the rest of the conversation because she was sworn to secrecy. Cherise knew her secret would be safe with Saraphina “Please don’t tell anyone but I had to leave in such a hurry because I was pregnant when I left and the baby’s daddy is Alvin. He knows. I told him and that’s when he told me it was over between us. No one else knows but you and of course the hospital. Maybe one day little Vynal will meet his daddy. “
During her reverie the conversation about the new Reverend continued. “I’m sure Octavia will be a really good preacher’s wife. She was such a beautiful bride. What a great wedding they had.” Evealynn looked wistful and said, “I wonder when they are gonna have some babies?”
“Well I heard he got his preachers license on line at the University of Phoenix. Doctor of Divinity my ass.” Jo said as she got up and headed to the kitchen. “Maybe I should get a license on line. I could be a preacher too or a orchestra conductor or a psychic psychiatrist.”
“Or a chef.” Saraphina chuckled. “Speaking of kitchens, you’d better go and get ready Jo. Sundays as we know are busy after church and with this weather I think we will be swamped.”
As if in response to her statement the door swung open and a young, clean-cut man entered.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Are you open yet?”
“Yes, we certainly are.” Evealynn said, “Have a seat anywhere I’ll be glad to serve you. Here’s a menu. Do you want a cup of coffee? It’s just brewed. A Kenyan roast.”
“No thanks. I actually came in because I had a question for you. You see I used to live here in the neighborhood, it’s been a little over a year ago, over on the other side of the square, in the apartments, you know, The Maxwell apartments.”
This short conversation seemed to tire him a bit and Evealynn put a glass of water on the counter in front of him that he drank thirstily. “Thanks ma’am.”
“Evealynn is my name and you’re welcome…..” She hesitated waiting for him to fill in the blank.
“ Steve, Steve Ford. But my friends call me Stevie.”
“Evealynn looked him up and down. She smiled and held out her hand. “Nice to meet you Stevie.”
“Yes, Thank you again,” he said with a slight stutter. I am looking around here for a house to rent. You see I just got back to town and I thought this neighborhood would be a good place for me and my friend to live.” Steve was nervous. This idea came to him a couple of weeks ago, to move back into this very neighborhood and find a house so he could take care of Six.
He was finally sober after his second six weeks of rehab with a long stretch in-between of relapse. When he found out about Six he realized that he had to help him out after all Six had done for him. Six had been so brave that day coming down all naked to see about his stupid gunshot wound that could have killed him.
The medics took one look at Stevie lying there all bloody and the naked hairless black man standing over him holding the gun, that they took both of them to jail. The trauma of being touched and hauled off butt naked to jail put Six over the edge. He completely flipped and ended up catatonic in the nut house.
Stevie, after his relapse, started back on street meth but after a few months the nightmares of Six covered in blood screaming his name, sobered him up for good.
He had a job now. When he was visiting the nut house he found out that he could get paid by the state to take care of Six.
Evealynn tapped him on the shoulder waking him from his reverie. “Hey, hey, are you alright? I might know of a house for rent. You see I rent a room in the basement of a house and the family that lives upstairs is moving.”
Stevie turned to look at Evealynn, “Really! Wow, I can’t believe my luck. Are you sure? Say you look so familiar to me. I seem to have seen you around here before. Are you sure about the house? I have references and everything. I’ll be taking care of a sick buddy. I hope that will be OK.”
Evealynn looked him over carefully. In her old business she had learned to quickly judge a man’s character and looking at Stevie she liked what she saw. He looked familiar too like she had talked to him before and she figured he wasn’t a past client. Those men she knew intimately and when she saw them she would freeze them out with her eyes.
“Yes, I think I will trust you Mr. Stevie Ford. You’ll love this neighborhood. It seems that somehow we all become part of the same circle.”
Nepthalia’s Vision—Clark Humphrey
Only a few trusted friends got to call her Nepthalia, or even to learn that name, which she had long believed to be her “real” name. To her family, her teachers, and other authority figures and/or strangers, she remained Jill, or “just plain Jill” as she’d often said to herself; she’d been using the phrase years before she learned there’d been an old time radio show called “Just Plain Bill.”
That was just one of the mysteries she’d explored on her own, telling only a few trusted friends over the years. She didn’t want to become the center of any media circus. She didn’t want “experts” showing up, to tell her she was just making up an elaborate fiction about being reincarnated.
She just knew what she knew. Some of it she knew for sure, deep in her heart. Other parts of her past life she just had vague visions about.
The parts about which she was absolutely sure included:
• Having lived in Eastern Washington at the turn of the last century, in a homesteader family that came over on the Great Northern to farm wheat.
• Having raised a daughter who died in a car crash on a primitive country road, and a son who died in World War II—and not even in combat, but during a routine training mission gone horribly wrong.
• Having had exactly four sexual partners in that life: a nameless, faceless male relative who’d done something to Nepthalia as a child that Jill can’t remember; the “popular” high-school cad; her husband; and a shopkeeper in the next town over, who was known to be both generous and discreet with his favorite female customers.
• Having lived a plain existence of numbing drudgery and low-key tragedies, interrupted by moments of excitement or even happiness.
• Momentary sensual memories. The texture of a gingham dress. The warm light of the lighted dial on the living-room radio. The noise of the tractor engine during the tilling of muddy soil.
The parts about which she was hazy included most anything that could be either proven or disproven by historical research. Names, dates, places, all that.
Nepthalia/Jill had only performed a little such research so far, and always on her own. In a sense, she’d decided, she liked not knowing whether she really was an old soul or just a kid with a really good imagination.
Her personal obsession began plainly enough. Ten years ago, her mother had taken her to the American Girl Store in the Alderwood Mall. The seven-year-old Jill was fascinated by the dolls and the storybooks about girls who lived in other times and places. Jill’s mother was sold on the larger concept of teaching girls about the history of everyday life—i.e., “women’s” history—as something just as important as the history of great warriors and inventors.
Jill gazed in awe and wonder at all the dolls, each with her own official storyline. But she stopped at Cynthia the Western pioneer girl.
Something about the doll’s facial expression and appearance struck Jill. A wealth of images, sounds, smells, etc. suddenly came to her. They were all about a girl/woman whose name, appearance, wardrobe, and life story were different in countless ways from those of the fictional Cynthia. They just “showed up in my head all of a sudden,” she told two friends later that week.
Her parents and her older brother did notice a change in Jill. Almost immediately, a typical frenetic rambunctious child became a quieter, almost solemn creature. She soon tired of much of the normal nonsense a primary-grades female was supposed to love. But not all of it, not right away.
She still had a grade schooler’s body, hormones, and vocabulary. She still had arms and legs that wanted to move instead of sit still. But when she got out of the classroom at recess to move, she now moved differently. While the other kids still had to be told not to run in the hallways, she purposefully strode everywhere. While they climbed the Jungle Gym, she used it for chin ups and other traditional calisthenics routines.
Jill’s mother treated the changes as just normal childhood “phases,” to surely be followed by later, equally sudden personality swing. Instead, the serious seven year old became a serious eight year old, then a serious nine year old, etc.
She made few friends, and chose the ones she did make for their potential loyalty.
She came to use words few people of her age used very much, such as when she regularly dismissed her peers’ fads in clothes and music as “trite escapism.”
At thirteen, she got branded “Jill the Pill” by the school’s mean-girls clique. The nickname stuck. She didn’t even seem to mind it. A “pill,” she once proclaimed at the bus stop, was something you took in order to get better. A good thing.
Her older brother had to live with her regular scowls of disapproval, over everything from his “wasting precious food” at the dinner table (either eating what she considered too much, or not eating everything on his plate) to his desires for needlessly expensive athletic shoes.
Her father often felt like Jill was trying to parent HIM. Like the time when she was fourteen and had to use his computer to look up something for a class project. She lectured him about having too many applications and windows on his screen at one time. How, she asked, could he possibly accomplish any real work, with email and Twitter and silly video clips and stupid games always there to distract him?
Jill’s mother had her own worries about the girl. Yes, the daughter was studious and forthright, and seemed to truly loathe other kids’ drinking and smoking, and had yet to fall under the and was honest at least up to a point.
But the mother could tell the daughter didn’t confide in her about everything. Whole regions of Jill’s thoughts and feelings were off limits. The mother knew Jill continued to be interested in American history, on the everyday-life side. She didn’t know about Nepthalia.
One evening at home, Jill’s mother tried to deliver the universal “beware of boys” lecture. Jill was 15, or approximately 108 in Nepthalia years. The mother stumbled half-nervously to explain how a girl Jill’s age might really, really want to do something, but that particular something wasn’t necessarily the best thing for her to do at that time.
Nepthalia/Jill looked up at her directly and calmly. “Of course I have a mating urge, mother. So do most people. I also sometimes have an urge to throw Ellen and Tara from English class into an oncoming truck, but I’ve never done it.”
Nepthalia/Jill stared at her mother with the knowing, almost elderly stare that her mother knew meant she didn’t dare laugh or even smile back at her.
“If you ever send me a picture like that again, I will kill you.”
“Why are you mad at me? Shouldn’t you be mad at Nadine for looking at your phone? Plus – I have located your phone, you seem to forget. I did not start the fight. I did not lose the phone. I don’t even have a hangover. You though, you are having a melodramatic fit.”
“Listen, I don’t need you sending me pictures of some bikini barista from the drive through espresso in Lake City. I was not interested in them before, I am not interested in them now. If you don’t send the picture, I do not get into the fight. If I don’t get into the fight, I do not get upset, hammered, and lose my phone. Can you figure that out?
“First, it was just a picture. Second, I did not start the fight with Nadine. Finally, you are the fool who got wrecked and lost your phone. And if you were not already drunk you would not have gotten into the fight. I may not be Nadine’s biggest fan, but she ought to kick your ass just ‘cause you are so stupid. Plus, you have to admit that it is kind of unbelievable that I found it. You have to admit.”
“Fair enough, you freak.”
“Do you want me to talk to Nadine for you?”
“I should hit you for even suggesting it. She is not even a member of your fan club. Steer clear my friend.”
Ken was correct, even if he is an immature moron pain in the ass. Finding the phone was fantastic.
We were at a house party last night. Nadine borrowed my phone to make a call. When she did, she found the pictures that dumb ass had sent me – they arrived while she was making her call. She got annoyed, I got annoyed. Next thing you know we are yelling at each other out on the front lawn. I say some dumb things. She splits, says I can walk my foolish self home when I am good and ready.
Already messed up, I head downtown, travel a bit further down the line. I blow an obscene portion of my paycheck. I lose my phone. And now I have a splitting headache, a bad stomach, and some frayed nerves. All that and Nadine is gone all day for work. And I cannot even get a hold of her to say I’m sorry. I remember texting her before I left the bar last night. Hopefully I did not say anything else to add fuel to the fire. Without her life is in the toilet bowl.
But things are looking up. Ken may be a pain, but he found the phone. He stopped by to check on me this morning. He knew I was in rugged shape last night. When he saw me fretting about the phone, he called the number. Crazy enough, some guy answered. A homeless dude said he found it near Pioneer Square last night. Said he is sitting down by the ferry terminal and I can stop by and pick it up. Unbelievable. Can that be real?
Too good to be true is more like it. But, I have to go check it out. I ditch Ken and retrace my path from last night, heading back to the train. I sport shades on this gray day, a testament to my addled mind. Because of my hangover, because of my emotional state, and now because of hope everything seems alive and scary, ominous. Phoneless, I cannot even put my headphones on to seal myself off from the world. Assuming I get the phone, I hope Nadine has tried to call me back. I just want to tell her I’m sorry for being such a jerk, losing my temper.
Good lord, the platform and the train are packed. My head swims looking at the green and blue of the hordes headed to the clink for the Sounders game. So noisy. And happy too. I look out the windows as we pull away from the station, watching for the videos that play on the wall. Playing cards that flash as we go by. Hardly the I Ching, but I cannot help referring to them, looking to glean some information. Queen of Hearts. Ace of Spades. And we’re gone. I shiver despite being comfortably warm. I would not mind throwing up again.
The hordes get off before me and two stops later I am in Pioneer Square. Up the stairs and down Yesler to the ferry terminal, ready to meet my day’s fortune. Do I win or lose? Do I really get my phone back? Is Nadine willing to keep me?
One or the other, I am relieved to see only one street person hanging around half way up the block from the pedestrian entrance to the ferry. I roll the twenty bucks I brought with me around in my hand, hoping that will be enough to get it back. Looks like he is in his fifties, ragged like you would expect. Big gray beard, alert, not too scary looking.
“Hey, would you be the guy who happened to find a phone last night?”
“I surely did. But it was this morning. What’s it to you? Your phone?”
“I hope it is. If so, I’d like to thank you for rescuing it, and answering it when my buddy called.”
“Well, if it is yours, you better pay your bill. Their customer service has been calling you all morning.”
“Can I check it out? Prove to you it’s mine?”
He hands it over. I show him as I unlock it. Relief, mixed with pangs of sadness and desperation. The phone is back, but no messages or missed calls from Nadine. Damn. I offer my savior the twenty dollar bill.
“No thanks he says. I don’t want your cash for the phone. You can put it in the box, but this ain’t no scam, you understand. I found the phone; just want to get it back to its owner. I may be on the street, but I don’t steal from people.”
“Alright. Thank you so much. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Two things, please. A big mac. And a phone call.”
“Big mac, sure. You want to use the phone to make a call?”
“You are correct.”
Not sure if I am making a mistake, I leave him with the phone, unlocked. I walk up the street to get him his big mac. Amazingly, he’s still there when I return.
“Ok, Ok. Look, mom, I have to go now. I’ll call you the next chance I’ve got. The phone’s owner is back. I got to. Bye.”
“You called your mom?” Amazing.
“What of it? Nice photos you got there. That girl is a hottie – I bet she makes quite the cup of coffee.”
“Thanks. Look – here’s your big mac. Thank you again – I really appreciate it. Please, keep the change from the big mac. I can’t thank you enough.”
Then I am back on the train. Looking at my phone. Still amazed. Still no word from Nadine.
The phone chirps. I can see I have a text. I am afraid to look.
Don’t be Contrary
Just inside the entrance of Peter Harney grade school there was a huge calendar with really big X’s crossing off the days until the end of the school year. There was an assembly planned for the 100th day of school and at the assembly the candidates campaigning for the student council positions would say their speeches and at the end of the assembly the entire student body would cast their ballots for the coveted positions.
Paige Plummer had longed to be on the student council, she had run for office every year since she had been in the fourth grade. The first year she ran for Sergeant at Arms and lost to a Billy Boetcher the bullyboy and was appointed the library liaison.
In fifth grade she ran for Vice President and had lost to Carolyn Cook, a sixth grader and was then appointed the Chief of Patrols. Now that she was in sixth grade she wanted more than anything to be elected Student Body Secretary. Most all of her class and Ms. Hungates 5th grade class were wearing her campaign buttons. They were made with yellow construction paper in the shape of a pencil with a red eraser on the end written on the pencil in the best penmanship was,
“DON’T BE CONTRARY VOTE FOR PAIGE FOR SECRETARY”
They were way cooler than her opponent Charlie Marshall. He was in Mr. Davies 6th grade class next door, and all of his classmates were wearing Charlie’s campaign buttons. Charlie’s Dad had the Ford Dealership in town and he used real big buttons that said Marshall Ford, only he taped a white piece of paper over the Ford part and said “ 4 Secretary”. It looked kind of mickey mouse, and Paige thought hers were not only more secretarish, but the writing was darn near perfect and it was a pencil which totally went with the secretary part and after all, for the office of secretary hand writing was really important.
There were campaign posters plastered all over the halls too, just last week all of the candidates had met in the school office and got to use all of the supplies there to make their posters. Paige kept a keen eye on Ms. Hazel, the school secretary, just to see if she was keeping minutes of the poster making of the candidates. Ms. Hazel really had a handle on everything, Paige wanted to answer the phone and file papers for teachers but she thought if she watched Ms. Hazel perform her duties, it might help her hone in on how she might handle her duties being a secretary.
Paige really wanted to be elected for office, not just appointed to some job that any kid could do but really elected, third time’s a charm, Kris Kross applesauce! Hope, hope hopefully this year she would win and be secretary of the student council. When Paige saw her dad’s car pull in the driveway that evening she raced to the front door, opening it slowly, taking his briefcase and hanging his coat in the front hall closet. She didn’t want to plead and beg right when he got home from work so she let him look through the mail and her mom gave him a vodka on the rocks.
Paige was anxious for him to get to the basement to finish what she thought would be her crowning glory at the end of her speech. Her dad had fashioned a pencil out of a piece of doweling from brother Sam’s closet. He had tapered the end to look like a pencil; she even drew the lead jagged like with the real wood showing. Tonight they were to paint the yellow part and figure out how to do the eraser. The large pencil was a prop she would use at the end of the speech; she had made really big fake ballot with her name very large and Charlie Marshall’s really small each with a box behind it. She planned on putting the ballot on an easel and using her oversized pencil, she would mark the ballot box and then after the assembly everyone would vote and remember her doing so.
Paige had performed her speech for her family that night over and over again after dinner. She could have done without Sam snickering and farting and acting stupid but she made it through the last time without even looking at her paper. She was hoping she wouldn’t be too nervous tomorrow but her dad assured her that if she took a couple of deep breaths before she went to the microphone it would be a great speech.
Paige knew what she would wear when she awoke on this the 100th day of school and the day of the election. It was her Christmas outfit; it was like something a real secretary would wear. It was a red suit and her mom told her red was her power color. It had a skirt and also a jacket with small brass buttons down the front and at the end of the sleeves. She had new white knee socks and even though the red patent leather shoes were from last year and a little small they really completed the secretarial look.
Her dad had attached the pencil to her backpack the night before and with her secretarial outfit on she headed to the garage to get on her bike to meet up with Gretchen, her best friend and next-door neighbor. They rode to school every day taking the shortcut up the side of the sports fields behind the rental houses on the narrow black top driveway.
They could see school in the distance just a couple of blocks away and there was quite a commotion going on in the turnaround where Mom’s let their kids off. At first they thought there were red emergency vehicles, but no flashing lights, no fireman or ambulances.
As Paige and Gretchen got closer they could see that there were red cars, shiny red convertibles, with tons of balloons tied to the antennas, and a big clump balloons being held by…. Charlie Marshall. He was handing them out to kids, and their parents were joining in the fun, and there was Ms. Heller, the principle talking with Charlie’s dad the Ford dealer in town.
She and Gretchen knew that this was Charlie’s big pencil moment but how to take the thunder away, at this late stage of the game they had to think fast. They lickety split headed to the main office, there was Ms Hazel, the true secretary with more paper and supplies than anyone could ever use.
Paige thought about the dragon she had made in celebration of Chinese New Year using popsicle sticks and construction paper folded up accordion style. She and Gretchen each took one end of the butcher paper and stapled it on one end to the big pencil and on the other end a yardstick. In the middle was the poster in really BIG red letters, on both the front and back, the definition of contrary.
Now that was Secretarial! Con – trar – y kon-trer-ee; also kuh -n – trair – ee; Opposite in nature, position, direction or meaning; Unfavorable or adverse, or opposed. She and Gretchen marched silently though the crowd that had gathered she in her red power suit and slowly the red cars were driven away by the high school boys. Paige was busy rewriting her speech in her head to include that marking the ballot box in her favor was the Write choice.
Keeping up with the Joneses
The rhythmic squeaking of the grocery store cart made Barbara Jones wince as she pushed her basket down the aisle. Glancing at the shelves in front of her, she bent down, grabbed a bag of flour and placed it in her cart. A cacophony of voices surrounded her as she pushed her squeaky cart by a man arguing loudly on his cell phone, while a baby screamed a couple aisles over.
Barbara shivered in the frigid supermarket air and pulled her sweater tighter around her stomach. Why were supermarkets always so cold, she wondered. Looking down to the grocery list in her hand, she crossed off flour and looked to see what else was on her list. Suddenly, a shrill voice called Barbara’s name, causing her to look up in alarm.
“Hi Barbara!” Standing in front of Barbara was Sharon Smith. Barbara and Sharon were neighbors; their families lived across the street from one another. Barbara, her husband Dan, and their children Molly and Steven, were new to the neighborhood having just moved in a little over three months ago. Sharon and her family had come over the first week to welcome the Joneses to the community.
Barbara stared at Sharon in dread. Over the past couple of months, since meeting the Smiths, Barbara noticed there was something wrong about the family. The Smith’s dining room window was right across from the Jones’s driveway and whenever Barbara came home, she always felt she was being watched. A few times she had even seen a figure in the Smith’s window, gazing intently out.
Other incidents came to Barbara’s mind as she stood in the grocery store aisle, such as the increasing frequency of the Smith children’s intrusiveness. They seemed to come over every day, wanting to play with Barbara’s children, and they were always waiting at school, bounding around like little puppies, eager to see Molly and Steven.
Sharon and her husband Dave were worse than their children. They asked numerous probing and prying questions. The day after Dan touted the Jones’s new Infiniti, an identical car appeared in the Smith’s driveway. When new carpet was installed in the Jones’s home, a week later the same carpet company was seen installing new carpet in the Smith’s home.
Because of the Smith’s bizarre behavior, Barbara was dismayed to be confronted by Sharon at the grocery store. She resigned herself to the situation and looked at the woman standing in front of her. Barbara had always thought that Sharon was a bit dowdy, but there was something different about Sharon today.
“You got your hair cut!” Barbara exclaimed.
What once was long, lank, dark brown hair, was now a shoulder length bob, infused with highlights. Quite like, well quite like hers, Barbara realized.
“Well, I just decided that it was time for a change,” Sharon said as she ran a hand over her hair, smoothing it down. “I went to your girl since you recommended her and told her I wanted hair just like yours.”
“Oh! Well, the cut and color looks nice.” Barbara wasn’t sure if she was flattered. She took a moment to look at Sharon more closely. Sharon was wearing different clothes than usual. Her black suit dress made her look professional and polished, not at all like the typical sweat outfits Barbara had seen her wear. Barbara looked down at her own black dress, a feeling of panic starting to rise in her stomach.
“How are the kids?” Sharon asked, moving out of the way of another shopper.
“Molly and Steven are well. Yours?”
“They’re great,” Sharon gushed. “Susan just adores her new ballet class and Chris is hitting home run after home run on the baseball field.”
Ballet and baseball, thought Barbara. While those were normal activities for children, those two activities just happened to be the ones her kids were involved in. Barbara remembered the complaints of Molly and Steven, stating that the Smith children had suddenly appeared at their practices one day. Steven was annoyed as Chris had insisted on being on his team and Molly complained that Susan was always standing next to her at the barre and that she had even shown up at the last class wearing the same outfit as Molly.
“That’s nice,” Barbara said as she glanced around. Her gaze fell on Sharon’s cart and her expression froze as she took stock of Sharon’s groceries. Pork chops, eggs, cereal, and flour lay on the bottom of Sharon’s basket. Barbara’s eyes shifted to her own cart as she realized that she and Sharon had identical groceries.
“I like your sweater,” Sharon said, pointing out the ruffle trim on Barbara’s collar. “Where did you get it?”
“My sweater?” Barbara repeated, laughing nervously. “I’ve had it for such a long time, I really don’t remember.”
“Well, if you do, let me know. I’d love to have a sweater like that.”
Barbara smiled shakily and glanced around in a panic. “You know, I really have to go Sharon,” she said, making a show of looking at her watch. “I promised the kids I wouldn’t be gone long. I’ll see you later.”
Barbara swerved her cart around to the right, causing it to squawk loudly. She quickly pushed her basket through the next aisle, toward the exit. She glanced over her shoulder, half expecting Sharon to be following her, but no one was there. Abandoning her cart by the produce section, she rushed out into the parking lot, intent on getting home to tell her husband that they needed to move, now!
Miss Roberta Wing
“Miss Birdie are you there?” Jo stood on the porch of the old run down house and peered into the darkness behind the screen door.
A small voice responded. “I’m here Jo. I knew you’d be stopping by. You know I have the power.”
“I’m just checking, seeing if you are alright today, seeing if you need anything.”
“Oh no, I’m doing just fine. They can’t see me from here and if I stay out of sight of them I’ll be alright.”
“Miss Birdie, since we have been talking and since I’ve gotten to know you I’ve been thinking that it would do you good to get out more often. It’s such a nice day today, the first really warm day this year. We could go for a little walk in the neighborhood. I don’t know if you can see them from inside but you have some really nice daffodils coming up here in your front yard.”
“I know, Jo, I can see them from here just fine.”
Jo sat down in the wicker chair and pulled it into a spot of sunshine. “Miss Birdie, how long have you been holed up inside that house. I talk to people about you and a few, no more than a few thought you were dead, that you had died years ago.”
A series of soft chuckles erupted from the darkness. “Well Jo, that’s so funny to me that people think I’m dead.”
“You don’t go out and no one has seen you at the store or at church or at Miss Lottie’s. It’s not that funny.”
“See Jo, you are the only person who has knocked on my door to see how I might be and for some reason I actually trust you. I like you. You are different from the others.”
“I’m different alright. Nobody would talk to me when I got back. They were all afraid of me. They thought I might still be crazy.”
“Oh yes, I remember what happened. You tried to burn down the church.” Soft chuckles again arose from behind the screen. “That would have served the Reverend right, that hypocritical old fool. So you’re not so crazy as everyone thinks seeing as you knew what was going on there.”
“Well, to be honest with you, I was sort of crazy. People have always been afraid of my temper since I was small.”
“Jo, they have always been afraid of me too. I have this ability to see things and to hear things other people can’t see and hear.”
“Don’t tell me Miss Birdie, you must be a psychic. No wonder no one comes over here to visit you. They are probably scared that you might put a spell on them or work some juju magic or something.”
“Don’t laugh. I know a lot of secrets about this bunch. I’ve lived in this same house since I was born. I remember back when these blocks were just fields and weeds and rabbits, rabbits everywhere.”
“Well, I’ve lived here off and on too since I was little. My momma lived around here when she was a kid.”
“I know, I know we all are so connected even strangers look familiar like we are all related somehow. Everybody sure knew all about you after the trial and all. You were the talk of the neighborhood.”
“I did my time. I paid my dues.”
“In my opinion you almost did the neighborhood a huge favor. We could have gotten that old buzzard kicked out of the church. But he had those highfaluting lawyers saving his butt and you just got put away. He shut you up real good.”
“He had no right to turn out my sister and everybody knowing what he does. I didn’t want to hurt anybody but him.”
Miss Birdie scooted her chair closer to the door. “I didn’t say anything but I told him that he should give up that business before he got hurt. But he didn’t pay me no mind.”
“He’s still in the business. He laid low for a while until all the fuss with the fire died down and me safely in prison. He has tried to be more careful but I’ve been keeping an eye on him since I’ve been back. I saw him bringing a couple of new girls into that house he owns. The cops can’t or don’t do a thing about his business. I figure he pays them off or has something on them.”
“The problem with your plan is that you just went and acted so wild and crazy and you got caught red-handed with that gas can. Plus they found some weed on you too. That was really stupid Jo, really stupid.”
“I know, I know. But I’ve had a few years, three to be exact, to figure out a really good plan to fix him real good. Oh hell, I shouldn’t tell anyone and now I’ve said something.”
“Don’t worry about me talking to anyone Jo. In fact I wouldn’t mind helping you get that old bastard myself. I trust you Jo. I don’t know why but I know you were brought to me by some supernatural force. I haven’t felt like talking to anyone for a while now. I used to work and shop just like everyone else but then I started seeing things, things that scared me. At first I told people about my visions but I soon learned to shut up and not say a word. People can be so trifling.”
“They can also be mean. I know how you feel. When I was younger people were afraid of me because of my size and because I could be so violent. I did manage to get some good therapy while I was in prison. I realize now that I can’t be worried about what I think other people think of me.”
“Easy to say Jo, but when they come after you, you can’t help being paranoid. I’ve had too many close calls in my day. People chasing me wanting to hurt me wanting to shut me up.”
“Miss Birdie won’t you come on out here on the porch in the sunlight. It’s such a nice day.”
“I’m still afraid to Jo. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll try to come outside. I’m safe inside here.”
“Well, it’s going to be hard to plan our attack on the Reverend if I can’t even see you. Even in prison we looked forward to seeing each other to look at each other in the face. You had to look each other in the eye if you ever wanted to trust them or for them to trust you. No eye contact meant no trust. We all got real good at that.”
“What makes you think you could trust me anyway? You just met me. I may not be the person you think I am. Who sent you over here to spy in me anyway?”
“Now, now Miss Birdie don’t get all paranoid and shit. I don’t think you are being very nice to me all I did was try to be nice to you. You seemed so pathetic staring out behind those curtains. You made me curious, that’s all. I know what it’s like to be locked away, that’s all.”
“Look here, I’m sorry. Here, I’ll come to the door. We can still be friends. I won’t be paranoid. Are you sure you want to be friends with me? I’m probably not like the person you think I am.”
The front porch screen door opened a crack followed by a few thin fingers. Her face peeked out her eyes blinked in the sunlight.
“See that wasn’t so bad was it. Now I can see your face. I didn’t think you would be so…”
“Chinese looking? Well, I didn’t expect you to be so masculine, so huge.”
“Nobody told me you were Asian. I thought you were black like everyone else in this part of town, that’s all. I also didn’t expect you to be so young looking. I thought you were going to be an old shriveled up old lady.”
“Jo, I am sixty-five years old. Anyway I thought you were a girl. Your voice sounds like a girl but you look like a man.”
“Well, technically I am a woman but in prison I found my true nature. If I can save the money I would like to get the operation but for now I’ll just stay a half and half.”
“Poor Jo. No wonder there is so much talk about you. We really make an odd couple of friends this old Chinese paranoid and you a freaky woman-man. This makes me so happy. I haven’t been this happy in years. This calls for a celebration Jo. I would like to welcome you into my humble abode for a cup of tea. Then we can talk about our plans for the destruction of Reverend Perkins House of Ho’s.”