Sunday, 30 September 2012

julia and porter

Mrs. Thayer ruffled up her feathers and scowled across the room. "Pheobe! I don't know where you left your manners, but you certainly didn't bring them here!" Miss Brooks looked chastened but unbowed.

 "Gloria, you know that last years' festival was poorly attended, and never so much as the day of that play." A quiet murmur of support ran around the room. Mrs. Thayer looked furious. Before she could speak, the woman sitting to my immediate right rapped her notebook sharply on the table. "Ladies! We are not here tonight to decide the details of the gala - tonight's meeting was to discuss general ideas only. Besides (she stared down everyone until they fell silent.) Kendall Thayer is away at university now, and will NOT be returning to our fair city for the next festival." I could have been mistaken, but I could have sworn I heard a soft 'Thank God' come from her lips as she fussed with her papers. "Now, who is leading the refreshments committee this year?"

I tuned them out, smiling and nodding in the right places,wondering why on earth Grand-Dad had been so insistent that I involve myself with this group, and busied myself watching faces.

There was a lot of feeling expressed about just how this years' festival would be run. Last year, I idly thought, could not have been good. The women were hard into it, several sharp conversations going on at once, their heads dipping with emphasis, voices rising. The woman to my right (Julia, I suddenly remembered, her name is Julia) let out a tiny 'tsk!' of annoyance, then sighed and let them all go. She glanced my way and our eyes caught. She shrugged a shoulder, and I realized she was very near my age. "I time it." she said, simply. "It does them good to get the irritations off their chests. And last year  there was- well, there is a lot of irritation over last year. I give them seven minutes, and then I'll call them back into order. That way", she said, flashing a surprisingly fond smile at the still-quarreling women around the table, "no one will have time to say anything they'll really regret, they'll feel better for getting it out, and we can all get back to business. You must be Katherine - I'm Julia Clairborne. It's a pleasure. My mother couldn't be here tonight - but she'd love to meet you. Come around tomorrow for tea?"

I was taken aback and charmed, all at once. "I'd love to" I said at last. "Oh! " she said, glancing up at the big clock hanging on the wall. "Time to reign in the passions. Ladies. Ladies!"

And we swept into a storm of signing people up to head committees and assigning tasks to others. The big clock boinged twice more before we adjourned, and Julia bid most of them goodbye before turning to me. "Clay will be able to point out where we live, but I think you've probably seen it. The big yellow house at the corner, right before your driveway."

"We're neighbors?"

"We are. And Momma would love to see you. She was friends with your Mom when she first moved here, and she remembers you as a tiny girl. Come by tomorrow after lunch?"

"I think I'd really like that."

I stepped out into the hot sun and looked around for Clay. Not seeing him (the hardware store? The bank? Where would I look?) I set off towards the end of town, mulling over the meeting and trying to put faces to names. I walked past the tall man lounging against the bumper before I realized that I was standing in front of Clay's truck.

"Well now", a voice drawled. "You must be Kitty." I looked up. "I'm Porter. Dad said to come get you. He got caught at the dentist. I think"-a dimple flashed in his cheek- "he'll brush more next time. Let's get you home."

He smelled like moss, I decided as we whizzed through the streets, or something woodsy and cool. Other than a few niceties, though, we were silent on the way, the wind whirring through the open windows the only sound. Porter whistled a couple of notes, then tapped his hand on the steering wheel.

"So how long are you going to hang out in Bailey?"

 "I'm not sure. Until after the festival, anyway."

He slowed to turn into the driveway and cut the motor in front of Clay's shed. He leaned back in his seat and sent me a half-smile. "Well, I'll see lots of you then. I'm staying with Dad this summer."


He nodded. "Here."

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

time and tide

BobbyKyle woke me up.

 Well, not him, exactly, but his giant, belching-smoke machinery did. I sat straight up in bed and discovered that a man with a worn gimme cap was felling limbs right next to my window. He winked as I yelped and dove for my robe.

 By the time I hit the kitchen, hair still wet from my shower, the roar of his big truck was gone and he was seated at the table with Clay, both men deep in conversation, coffee cooling in front of them.

 "Hey, Miss Kitty" said Clay easily, "what's going on for today?" He nodded his head towards BobbyKyle. "Bobby tells me he met you this morning." BobbyKyle had a firm grip and a shyer smile than I would have thought for someone who had already seen me in my nightgown. "Hullo, miss" he said, shambling to his feet and shaking my hand. "I'm so glad someone's come back to live here. This old lady (he gestured at the room) was getting lonely all by herself." He looked around the kitchen. "The inside's not bad. There's a big spot of the gingerbread over the eaves that's broken though, and there's some rot in the porch. Don't you worry. We'll get her shining." Clay nodded.

"No one better for that then BobbyKyle. He practically grew up here. He'll soon set her straight." BobbyKyle launched into a complicated tale of neighbors and Sunday dinners and climbing apple trees and while I didn't quite understand it all, by the end of it I knew he loved the old house I had and would make her new and proud again.

 We were wet from washing all the windows (our chore for today)and covered in bits of leaves and debris, BobbyKyle still shearing branches high above us, letting the sun come sparkling through to the windows when I heard a discreet cough and turned to see my Grandfather, holding a grip of flowers, eyes twinkling down at me.

 "So, Katie, I see you've met Clay. What do you think of your new house?" I launched myself at him, feeling suddenly homesick and very small when I felt his arms around me.
"Hey now." he said softly, patting my back. "No tears. I came to bring you these and to see what you've done to the old place."

 I felt less shaky, and raised a smiling face to him. "Come inside and see what we've dreamed up."

 I had Grand-Dad settled at the kitchen table with tea and the drawings that Clay and I had worked so hard on before I spoke. "Grand-Dad, why didn't you tell me this was Mama's house? And what do you want me to do here in Bailey this summer?"

 Grand-Dad put down his cup."I didn't tell you, Katherine, because I wanted you to fall in love with the place before you found out its' history." He chuckled. "That didn't happen, huh?" He twinkled again. "I wondered if Ford would remember."

 "Katherine, I wanted you to live here because I think you can find your Mama." He waved a hand. "I know that everyone thinks she's gone. I can't, though - there's a part of my heart that refuses to believe my daughter is dead. So, I brought you down here. You alone in this family have the guts and determination to find Alice, and bring her home."

 I opened my mouth to protest - this happened years ago! Teams of trained police officers couldn't find her! How on earth could I - and closed it with a snap when I saw his face and the trust shining out of his eyes. I nodded.

 "All right, Grand-Dad. I'll try."

Monday, 3 September 2012

front porch

After supper Ford ferried Clary to her cousin's house, and I cleared up the kitchen and wandered out onto the porch, making notes about what I wanted to do first. I was still thinking about Mama and wondering why Grand-Dad hadn't told me this was her home  - and what was I supposed to do with this information? - when Ford came back. He folded his long self into one of the (squeakily protesting) rockers and looked out over the shaggy yard. He took tea with a murmered thanks but stayed deep in thought until I poked at him.

"Ford? Why didn't Grand-Dad tell me he'd bought Mama's house? I know he didn't tell Maudie - she'd have been all over that as another excuse not to let me go. Another damned-fool reason to milk the past and hurt the girl, Stanton." My voice shook a bit, but I imitated Aunt Maud anyway.

My uncle shook his head. "I don't know, Kitty. It seems like something you should have been told." He looked around with a frown.  "I must have been here before, but I don't really remember. I'm sure I don't remember Alice in this house."

Shaking off his pensive mood, Ford grinned. "Well now, girlie, what are you going to do next?"

Pump Grand-Dad for information was on the tip of my tongue, but I coughed back the words and took a long sip of my drink. "I think I'm going to spend tomorrow going through the house.  I'd like to poke around a bit and explore, and then Grand-Dad is going to have to explain this 'business' he wants me to help with. "

My uncle checked his wristwatch. "I promised Clary I'd pick her up in an hour. But until then, what can I help you with? I heard you and Clary discussing a desk..."

That night I didn't sleep well. I blamed it on the strange creaks and groans the unfamiliar house made, and the wind busily dragged tree branches across my bedroom window. I decided I wasn't just going to lie there, and was up and in the shower at seven a.m, mind full of errands to run and paint colours to pick and....

Downstairs, I turned the corner and pulled up short when I realized there was a man in my kitchen. "Hi there" he said, holding out a mug of coffee. "You must be Miss Kitty. I'm Clay." I wanted to scream - should have screamed, most of my training had prepped me to scream - but his wide brown eyes and crinkly smile disarmed me a bit, and I took the offered drink. A few sips later and I was ready to talk.

"Just Kitty, please. You're the caretaker?"

He laughed softly and shrugged a shoulder. "Something like that. Now that there's actually someone living in the big house, I'll get BobbyKyle down here to thrash back those trees. It'll give you more light. And I'll be around if you need anything."

The coffee had loosened my tongue. "My uncle said you could tell me about the town."

He shrugged, easy. "Sure. Anytime you want to hear a bunch of old stories, you let me know. I grew up here, married a local girl, raised my kids a few blocks from here.  My wife died a few years back. Her relatives owned our house, I had nowhere to go, and Stanton said I could stay here if I helped keep it tidy and running, just in case Miss Alice came back home. But it's too big for me - this place lost it's light when Miss Alice die....(he gulped and reddened a bit) ah....left - and so I stay here in the little house. It suits me better."

I raised an eyebrow. "The little house?"

He nodded. "It's at the foot of the driveway. I'm sure you saw it coming in."

I was aghast. "The shack?"

He chuckled. "Now that's what Ford calls it. I call it home. It suits me just fine. It's solid on the inside, dry and snug, and actually big enough for two."

So Grand-Dad had given me a house with a built-in watchdog at the gate. I wasn't sure whether to smile or give in to the slow-simmering tweak of anger I could feel twisting around in my belly. I chose to tamp it down and grinned at Clay. "So! What shall we do today? I wanted to look at the basement and the outbuildings and see what needs fixing and what might be stored everywhere."

He set down his empty cup. "Let's go."

I was running dirty sweat when we broke for lunch.  Clay staggered in off the porch, arms piled high with boxes, and set them down with a grunt. I opened a few cupboards and realized, guiltily, that I hadn't done any food shopping yet, and was pathetically grateful when Clay offered to take me out for a bite.

We ended up across the street from the grocery, eating ham and cheese sandwiches and sour pickles at Martha's Eat-In.  I was full and happy by the time my plate was clean, and peppered Clay with questions about the neighborhood, the house, and how he'd met Grand-Dad. He answered in between giant bites of peach pie, and by the time we left Martha grinning over the tip he'd left and headed into the Piggly-Wiggly to stock up on a few supplies, he and I were joking around like old friends.

It wasn't until we were back at the house and he was gathering his stuff to leave that I broached the subject I'd been thinking about all day.

"Clay, what do you think happened to my mother?"

He stilled and stopped loading wrenches back into his toolbox. "Kitty, I just....don't know." He shifted his weight and looked up at me, his eyes honest and kind. "I thought for a long time that your father had something to do with it, but we searched and searched - she's not here. Honey, I think she's just.....gone."

When your father was the last person to see your mother alive, you get used to the whispers and stares. Clay saying that my dad had killed my mother wasn't a exactly a new opinion, although it still stung. I swallowed hard - Mama! - and just nodded when Clay said he'd get BobbyKyle to come around in the morning and start mowing.

He left soon afterwards and I sat for awhile, letting the peace of the house soothe me.

"Mama, what happened to you?"


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