Wednesday, 15 August 2012

bailey

And within a few weeks, I did.

Aunt Maud had not been keen about my moving out. Grand-Dad finally broke into her chain of 'but what if this happens' with a quiet 'Maudie, do you really think I would send our Katie-girl out into harm's way?' after which she sighed heavily and began writing lists of things I could take with me to my new summer place.

It was arranged that Ford would drive me down, and to my surprise, Clary was in the front seat when we went out the door. Her face lit up. 'Kitty! Can you believe this? You're going to be living down the road from my cousin's house! Ford said I could ride along and I'll go see Judy Mae while you're getting settled. This is goin' to be so much fun!" Her enthusiasm made it easier to get in the car and ride away from the only home I remembered.

I couldn't resist a backwards glance at the house - was that shadow Aunt Maud standing behind the etched glass front door? -  and then we were gone.

Clary and Ford talked in soft tones while I lounged in back, cradling a wicker hamper that Clary's mama had sent with her so I wouldn't have to cook right away, and wondered if there had ever been a prettier day for changing destinies. Rowland slipped away as my thoughts went back and forth, and soon we were on the highway, avoiding trucks and laughing about signs on the side of the road. "The fruitcake capitol of the world?" My friend shot me a grin. "I didn't know Miss Venie had family here." She broke the tension, and we both giggled.

Bailey was a pretty town - shabby old houses set under huge trees jockeyed for position with newer low-slung homes, most with kids' toys in the yards. The sidewalks were wide and only crazed slightly with moss and treeroots, and the park was green and deep and cool.

I was beginning to get lost in my own sea of doubts - could I really live by myself? - when Ford slowed, then stopped the car. 'Taa-daa!' he said, pointing over the side of the car at a very overgrown patch of jungl-y bushes and vines. Off to one side there was a weedy driveway and a very small, ramshackle held-together-with-spit-and-hope building perched unsteadily on the edge.

Clary wrinkled her nose. "Really? That's it?"

Ford chuckled. " No, that's the shed. C'mon." He lifted one of my suitcases and a lamp and left me with the picnic basket, while Clara grabbed the mess of quilts and pillows I'd brought with me. We trudged up into the greenery, our feet making soft snicking sounds on the gravel. I was busily keeping branches away from my face when Ford stopped. "Well, Kitty, here it is."

I looked up  - it seemed to take a long time - and followed Ford's outstretched arm. Tucked up atop a gentle rise set a light-coloured house with a porch. The trees pressed in on it, making it look very close and dark, and the whole picture had an air of sadness at being forgotten.

Ford whistled. "I had no idea she'd look that bad. Grand-Dad said he'd had someone checking up on the house - he was told it was ready to move in. I'm not sure I should leave you here."

But I was curious, and afraid that if I left, I'd never come back. "C'mon. Let's go see the inside."

Ford produced a key, and the porch-boards groaned a few times but held when we walked across. The front door was a little warped and only gave way, screeching, when Ford strong-armed it, and the inside smelled close and stuffy but not musty, which probably meant there were no leaks in the roof. The interior (once Clary found a lightswitch) was nice - someone had loved this house. Clear colours and extensive mouldings were everywhere. There was even furniture - a stuffed chair there, a table here. Moving down the hall, I found a parlour with a small piano, and a big kitchen.

Clary had followed me. "Mm! Kitty, this will be lovely when you get the dust out of here. Look at all the windows!" There were lots of windows, and the kitchen was easily the brightest room in the house so far. I had a sudden flash of myself drinking coffee here, looking out over the porch into the backyard. It was a peaceful picture, and I felt a sudden swell of confidence. I could do this.

Ford was stomping around upstairs. Clary and I followed, stopping to exclaim over different details, and found him in one of the bedrooms, flipping a mattress on a bed. "I checked the taps - you do have water, and the lights work. These mattresses were covered with a sheet, so they shouldn't be too dusty for you to sleep on tonight, and tomorrow Clay will be here to tell you all about the town. He knows everything about this area."

My stomach was doing flip-flops at the thought of being left alone in a strange house. "You're not leaving now, are you?"

Clary  looked up from the quilt she was folding at the end of the bed, her eyes solemn as she took in how scared I was. "No, honey, we're gonna stay and eat some of Mama's fried chicken. Then Ford is gonna take me to see Judy Mae 'fore we head back." She dusted her hands together. "There. That's done. Let's go down and find some glasses and have some tea on your new porch."

Ford and I both followed her downstairs, Clary twittering about how lovely this would all be, how great this house was, how lucky I was to have such a fine place to call my own....

I was starting to feel much more cheerful about it all while Clary and I made lists of what I needed. We were debating a couch versus two big overstuffed chairs, digging out glasses for the thermos of cold tea her mom had sent, when Ford made a strange noise and I looked over to find him with his nose practically touching a photograph on the kitchen wall. He stepped back when I came near. "That's Stanton" he said. "Funny to see him so young."

The young man in the top hat and tails was unmistakably Grand-Dad, and the radiant woman on his arm could only be Ginny (as all her children and grandchildren had called her.) "Oh," said Clary, her voice soft, "it's their wedding-day picture."

I straightened suddenly. "Why is Grand-Dad's picture here? I thought he just bought the house a few years ago?"

Ford blew out his cheeks. "Well, yes. Grand-Dad bought the house back from Marion a few years ago. But really, the house hasn't been used since Phillip died."

Phillip was my fathers name. There was a buzzing in my ears. "My father lived here?"

Ford reached out to steady me. "Yes. This was the house he bought when he got married."

"Married - to Mama? This was Mama's house?"

"Yes, Kitty. This was your mothers home."



Wednesday, 1 August 2012

alice katherine

My mother had always been an enigma to me. She'd been happy during her marriage and pregnancy, Grand-dad had said, but sometime after my early, sudden, squalling birth, had decided she couldn't handle a second child and had....well, left.

Grand-Dad had searched, using the old boy network, and finding nothing, had quietly hired a series of private detectives to find her. Meanwhile, my father resolutely drank himself to death while staring out the window of Grand-Dad's house, watching for her to come home while I played on the floor. I had hazy memories of him, but mostly it was Maud and Grand-Dad that I thought of as parents.

Few mothers ran away from their months-old daughter. And even fewer just simply couldn't be found.

Grand-Dad said once that she was quieter through the winter as she grew heavy with child, more given to roaming the halls at odd hours and stroking her belly as she talked. They'd put it down to jitters, or fear of a second birth as hard as my brothers, and hadn't worried too much until she'd started laughing in response to conversations no one else could hear. It was decided that she was 'tired' and she spent a month at my aunt Georgia's house, but it only soothed her for a short while and soon she was roaming again, pacing the house in the moonlight.

I tried to imagine her, wide eyed and muttering, stalking the moon from one end of the house to the other, her hair pulled back, her hands clenching and unclenching as she walked. It was hard to superimpose that picture over the few photos I had of her - where she looked out, smiling and calm, dark eyes filled with what I thought of as love as she held me in her lap.

Then one night she'd taken her coat and gone out into the dark, and never come back.

There'd been a search, of course. Grand-Dad had enough pull with the State boys that Mama's face was plastered everywhere for months. But the leaflets had yellowed where they hung, and there was no trail. No body, either - they'd dredged several ponds and the marsh, and old wells and caves were prodded and checked.

She'd been gone twenty-two years. I'm older now than she was when she had me.

Grand-Dad walked for awhile, waving at a few people. We were close to the old railway station when he finally said "Katie, are you happy living here?"

His question surprised me so much I missed a step and nearly walked off the path. "Grand-Dad?"

 "Would you like to go somewhere else for awhile? I have a little house a couple of hours away from here - close enough so you could come and visit, but far enough so you could spread your wings and not spend your life taking care of us old folks." His eyes twinkled. "Maybe for the summer?"

I was sure I'd mis-heard him. I'd lived in Rowland almost my entire life.

He was quick to read my mood. "It's not a punishment, Katie. I need someone to oversee a few things for me in Bailey, and I thought you'd be perfect for the job. It's a bit of hard work....but there should be plenty of times for fun too."

He nodded at Mrs. Dailey, who was clipping her peonies. "Just think about it, Katherine." The rest of the walk was pretty quiet. Grand-Dad seemed lost in his thoughts, while I wasn't sure my head could contain mine. Did Maud know? Would she agree to this? Did I want to strike out on my own?

The house was still when we returned. Ford had taken Maud to her club, and Clary must have gone back home. Grand-Dad headed off to his study, and I took the broom with me out on the back porch, but after a few sweeps I gave up and headed for the closest rocker, mulling over what Grand-Dad had said.

Ford pulled in to the driveway, music blaring, and I gave him a grin.  "Where's Clary?"
He rolled his eyes. "You know darn well that Maud would rather go to church with mismatched shoes on than be seen with Clary Johnson. You should have seen her when she realized the top was down on the car." Ford was a good mimic. "Fo-ORD! You do NOT expect me to GET in THERE, do you?"

My uncle and I had always gotten along. He came and sat near me. "Did Grand-Dad ask you about the house in Bailey?"

I nodded, still giggling a little about Maud and surprised he knew.

"I think you should do it, Katherine."