Below is Part 15 of 23 monthly installments for Visitant.
April is the cruelest month. The sun, stalled in world passage, is wearing a white snood, but the puddles are muddy brown with soft centers. Tired of drab slabs of green and ugly reflections, Agnes divides her hair in five silly and cans five jars of bread-and-butter pickles.
On the other side of town, Bea, ticked off, readjusts her bra straps and answers the phone. Now what? Roscoe has buried one of her favorite slippers in the backyard.
Left or right? Jena replies, her puppy damage the mirror image of Bea’s catastrophe. Jena has a full kettle of Agnes news.
Steam on, girl, says Bea, putting up her feet.
While we’re pooch-proofing our closets, she’s canning pickles. She’s also landed a cute meet, a fellow at that prayer breakfast she attends. Our Agnes switched name tags to sit next to him.
She invited him over, but they stalled in Phase One, scented wax. Agnes told me he rejected an aura of April angiosperms and booked. Too much pollen.
The two friends chuckle.
You do know — Bea’s turn to teakettle — Agnes is dating Josephy November.
No kidding. The visiting Distinguished Professor with that divine accent? I heard him speak on local public radio.
Yes ma’am. They’re an item. Agnes told me she adores his lingo. The smallest event is a phenomenon. A dash of salt turns trace element. Noby, Agnes calls him. She says he sees things Top Down.
Trouble is, Jena interrupts, Agnes views the world Bottom Up. Have they made it past wax?
Must’ve. Hey, Roscoe needs out. Talk to you later.
Bea hangs up and looks for her other shoe.
Agnes Person doesn’t tell her friends everything. After she and Josephy November finished a leisurely President’s Day dinner at her place, she sketched his portrait in allergen-free neutral tints. To her surprise, Noby puzzled over the piece with no recognition. He could not see himself in unscented wax. Was the medium too undistinguished?
Of course, he finally said, this is a November landscape, a pewter sunset. Those heavy skies and cold lake dotted with grebes boded snow. And, he added, laughing, galoshes in the next size up for us boys. Ready for frolic, we pulled those ugly black rubber boots over our church shoes and slicked back our hair like champions.
And the girls? Agnes asked.
Our sister died of polio before she was strong enough to play outside.
Agnes wanted to cut out her tongue. I can melt down the sunset, she said, craft something else in your hues. A candle, perhaps?
Thank you, but no, Noby said, looking for his hat. I haven’t thought of Lakeshore, Illinois, in years. I’m grateful for the memory. Don’t mind. I’ll let myself out.
Agnes knows she has trespassed. She wonders what Noby calls the little sister inside him. She imagines the straw-colored pigtails, pink plaid bows, pearl teeth. An indoor girl longing to limp to the window, to wave to the cousins roughhousing with her brothers on the dead lawn. Everybody excited about Thanksgiving dinner and favorite Uncle Jack, back from the Navy.
Josephy November, Agnes also knows, will not be back. Their fling is over. The little girl is hers now. Agnes hopes the crippled child can gladden wax skies, flicker the lake with light, fatten with crocus bulbs under the keep. She’ll name her Adria, child of an inner sea, and teach her to walk without braces, climb stairs. She’ll give brave Adria a second-chance birthstone, a little anklet with a diamond for April, a healing reminder. Bea and Jena can be doting godmothers, TN an instant best friend. Life will be good.
Biding her time, Agnes reworks her hair as tourist locale. Her selection for the post-tax half of April is Washington, D. C. with wide avenues along the National Mall, complete with a starchy white obelisk, a Styrofoam placer.
Jena, impressed with the Washington Monument head-spike, nurses a bourbon-on-the-rocks. She chews the maple-flavored ice, an April house specialty, and watches as Agnes writes a phone number on the back of her hand. Jena says nothing, and they patiently wait out the punch-line of friend Bea’s story.
Deep in her cups, Bea is babbling like the D.C. Temperance Fountain. Yaddy, yaddy, Little League Mom mixing batter in nested bowls for upside-down cake, canned rings okay, drained — pineapple, ya know, big edible bromeliad from Costa Rica.
The Antipodes, interjects Agnes, lining her hair avenues with sprigged cherry blossoms.
Bea continues her gab. Yup, Working Mom microwave, big-box gift under holiday tree. No more scald, but less patina—this Good Girl’s dowry, Bea points to herself, was copperware in sets, paired pots and lids, lifetime guarantee.
Scoured sheen, now dented, green, thinks Jena. Divorce-proof pet pans.
On cue, TN makes bang-clang noises of Life Goes On.
What sold me on plastic, Bea says, was Single Mom plumbing. Bright white pipes, threaded male-female parts. No-brainer unisons.
Fare thee well, pail under sink, sings Agnes, her capital hair crested in monumental memoriam for the nation’s first President.
Jena guides tottering Bea to the couch.
Bea resists, and cries out, No fool-you goo fillings. These days, I demand lead in house paints, pencils, and, yes indeedee, birdbath stands. Stub your toe, I say. Savor the poison.
Before Bea lumbers out the door, Agnes hands her a jar of pickles. She hands Agnes a recipe for gingerbread cookies, old-fashioned comfort food. Agnes files the card under MANBREAD.
On the street below, the two friends quiz each other.
Turquoise due date.
So-o, what does that make us?
Not us. Never!
Bow wow, girlfriend. The puppies were dress rehearsal.
Jena arches a penciled eyebrow and hails a medallion cab.
► Next Installment | Catsitting Lola