Alla inlägg den 29 maj 2011

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 29 maj 2011 05:20

the phone to his mouth so he can cough." Her voice is calm and steady. I hold the phone near Grayer's mouth and within a second he has erupted into a deep cough. I feel the vibrations of this effort where his chest is pressed to mine. "Oh, God, Mom, I don't know what to-" "Nanny, that's the croup. He has the croup. And you need to take a deep breath. You may not fall apart right now. Breathe with me, in..." I focus on her voice, taking a deep breath in for Grayer and myself. "And out. Listen, he's okay. You are okay. He just has a lot of fluid in his chest. Where are you right now?" "Seven twenty-one Park Avenue." "No, where in the apartment?" "In the hall." "Is this a cordless phone?" "No, she doesn't like the way they look." I can feel the panic start to well up again as he whimpers. "Okay, I want you to go into his bathroom, turn on the shower so it's comfortably warm-not too hot, just warm, and then sit on the side of the bathtub with him in your lap. Keep the door closed so it gets nice and steamy. Stay in there until he stops wheezing. You'll see, the steam will help. His fever is trying to break and it will be down by morning. Everything is going to be just fine. Call back in an hour, okay? I'll be waiting." I feel somewhat soothed knowing that there is something I can do for him. "Okay, Mom. I love you." I hang up and carry him back though the darkness to his bathroom. "I'm going to flick the light on, Grayer. Close your eyes." He turns his sweaty face into my neck. The light is blinding after being up for so long in the dark and I have to blink a few times before I can focus in on the gleaming silver of the faucet. I grip his body as I lean over to turn on the shower and then sit down, balancing on the edge of the tub with him on my lap. When the water hits our legs he really begins to cry. "I know, sweetie, I know. We are going to sit here until this wonderful steam makes your chest feel good. Do you want me to sing?" He just leans against me and cries and coughs as the steam fills the bright tile around us. "I... want... my mommmmmm." He shudders with the effort, seemingly unaware that I am here. My pajama pants soak in the warm water. I drop my head against his, rocking slowly. Tears of exhaustion and worry drip down my face and into his hair. "Oh, Grove, I know. I want my mom, too." The sun shines in through the shutters as we munch on cinnamon toast among Graver's stuffed animals. "Say it again, Nanny. Say it-ciwomen toast." I laugh and poke him gently in the tummy. His eyes are bright and clear and my relief at his 98.6 has made us both giddy. "No, G, cinnamon, come on-say it with me." "Call it 'women toast.' You say it with me-" His hand pats my hair absentmindedly as the crumbs dribble around us. "Women toast? You crazy kid, what's next? Men eggs?" He giggles deeply at my joke. "Yeah! Men eggs! I'm so hungry, Nanny, I'm dying. Can I have some eggs-men eggs?" I crawl over him, grabbing his plate as I stand. "Hello! Hello, Mommy's home!" I freeze. Grayer looks up at me and, like an excited puppy, scrambles to get down from the bed. He runs past me and meets her as she comes to his door. "Hello! What are those crumbs doing all over your face?" She spatulas him and turns to me. I see the room through her eyes. Pillows, blankets, and wet towels all lying on the floor where I finally crashed when Grayer fell asleep at six this morning. "Grayer's been pretty sick. We were up late last night and-" "Well, he looks just fine now, except for those crumbs. Grayer, go in the bathroom and wash your face so I can show you your present." He turns to me with wide eyes and skips to the bathroom. I'm amazed he can even set foot in there. "Didn't he take his medicine?" "Yes, well, he has two more days to go. But his cough got really bad. I tried to call you." She bristles. "Well, Nanny, I think we've discussed where we prefer for Grayer to eat. You can go now, I've got it covered." I focus on smiling. "Okay, I'll just go and get changed." I walk past her with the plate in my hand, hardly recognizing the apartment filled with sunlight. I stuff everything into my bag, pull on jeans and a sweater and leave the bed unmade as my one act of rebellion. "Bye!" I call out, opening the door. I hear Grayer's naked feet hitting the marble as he runs out in his pajamas beneath a cowboy hat that is much too big. "Bye, Nanny!" He throws his arms open for a hug and I hold him tight, amazed at the difference a few hours have made in his breathing. "Mrs. X? He still has two more days of antibiotics so-" She emerges at the other end of the hall. "Well, we have a big day planned-we've got to get a haircut and go to Barneys to pick up a present for Daddy. Come on, Grayer, let's get dressed. Good-bye, Nanny." My shift is over-point taken. He follows her to his-room and I stand alone in the hall for a moment, pick up my bag, and override the temptation to put the antibiotics by her cell phone. "Bye, partner." I pull the door closed quietly behind me. The old nurse went upstairs exulting with knees toiling, and pat' ter of slapping feet, to tell the mistress of her lord's return.

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I grunt, heaving the machine into my arms and letting myself out into the kitchen. I refill all ten water tanks, schlepping them back and forth to the laundry room, while Ella keeps right on trucking from "It Was Just One of Those Things," through "Why Can't You Behave?" and "I'm Always True to You, Darlin', in My Fashion." My mind is reeling. This is not her house. This is not her family. And that most definitely was not her bedroom that she came out of. "Are you done yet?" she asks as I plug in the last one. "Because I was wondering if you could run to the shop for me." She follows me to the door as I grab my coat. "Pierre forgot to get heavy cream. Thanks." She hands me a twenty as I open the door. I look down at the money and then at Grayer's little frog umbrella in the stand, the one that has two big frog eyes that pop up when he opens it. I hold the money out to her. "I can't-I have, um, an appointment, a doctor thing." I catch a glimpse of myself in the gilt mirror. "Actually ... I just can't." Her smile strains. "Keep it, then," she says evenly. The elevator door opens, while she attempts to look casual leaning against the door frame. I put the bill down on the hall table. Her eyes flash. "Look, Nanny, is it? You run home and tell your boss that you found me here and all you'll be doing is saving me the trouble of leaving behind a pair of panties." She steps back into the apartment, letting the door slam shut behind her. "Like, literally panties?" Sarah asks me the next day as she tries on yet another shade of pink lipstick at the Stila counter. "I don't know! Do I have to look for them? I feel like I have to look for them." "How much are these people paying you? I mean, do you have a line? Is there a line they could cross?" Sarah is furiously puckering. "Too pink?" "Baboon butt," I say. "Try one of the plummy shades," the makeup artist behind the counter suggests. Sarah reaches for a tissue and starts over. "Mrs. X is coming back tomorrow. I feel like there's something I'm supposed to be doing," I say, leaning against the counter in exasperation. "Um, quitting?" "No, out here in the real world, where I pay rent." "TOOOOOTS!!!!!" Sarah and I freeze and look across the atrium to where two piles of shopping bags are calling Sarah's high-school nifkname, which rhymes with "boots." The bags make their way around the balcony toward us, parting to reveal Alexandra and Langly, two of our classmates from Chapin. Sarah and I exchange glances. In high school they lived in Birkenstocks and followed the Dead. Now they stand before us, Alexandra at nearly six feet and Langly at barely five, in shearling coats, cashmere turtlenecks, and a shitload of Cartier. "TOOTS!" they cry again as Alexandra envelops Sarah in a big hug, nearly clonking her on the head with one of her shopping bags. "Toots, what's up?" Alexandra asks. "So, do you have a man?" Sarah's eyelids lift. "No. Well, I mean there was someone, but..." She's starting to sweat, foundation beading on her brow. "I have a faaabulous man-he's Greek. He's soo gorgeous. We're going to the Riviera next week," Alexandra coos. "So, what are you up to?" she asks me. "Oh, same old, same old. Still working with kids." "Huh," Langly says quietly. "What're you gonna do next year?" "Well, I'm hoping to work with an after-school program." Their eyes narrow, as if I had just switched languages unexpectedly. "Focusing on using creative arts? As a tool for self-expression? And, um, building community?" I am getting completely blank looks. "Kathie Lee's really involved?" I offer as a last-ditch effort to ... what? "Right. What about you?" Langly almost whispers to Sarah. "I'm going to work at Allure." "Oh, my God!!" they squeal. "Well," Sarah continues, "I'm only going to be answering the phones, but-" "No, that's awesome. I. Love. Allure," Alexandra says. "What are you guys doing next year?" I ask. "Following my man," Alexandra says. "Ganja," Langly says softly. "Well, we better run-we're meeting my mom at Cote Basque at one. Oh, Toots!" Sarah is once again molested by Alexandra and they head off to poke at their seafood salads. "You're too funny," I say to Sarah. "Allure?" "Fuck 'em. Come on, let's go eat somewhere fabulous." We decide to treat ourselves to a chic lunch of red wine and robiola cheese pizzas at Fred's. "I mean, would you actually leave your underwear in someone's house?" "Nan," Sarah says, shutting me up. "I just don't understand why you care. Mrs. X works you like a mule and gave you dead-animal headgear for a bonus! What is your loyalty?" "Sarah, regardless of what kind of a whackjob employer she might be, she's still Grayer's mom and this woman is having sex with her husband in her bed. And in Grayer's home. It makes me heartsick. Nobody deserves that. And that freak! She wants to get caught! What's up with that?" "Well, if my married boyfriend was dawdling about leaving his wife I guess I might want him to get caught, too." "So, if I tell, Ms. Chicago wins and Mrs. X will be devastated. If I don't tell it's humiliating for Mrs. X-" "Nan, this is not even within a million miles of your responsibility. You don't have to be the one to tell her. Trust me-it's not in your job description." "But if I don't and the panties are floating around and she finds out that way ... Ugh! How awful! Oh, my God, what if Grayer finds them? She's so evil I bet she'd put them somewhere he'd find them." "Nan, get a grip. How would he even know they were hers?" "Because they're probably black and lacy and thonged and he might not get it now, but one day he'll be in therapy and it'll just kill him. Get your coat." Sarah greets Josh in the front hall with a glass of wine. "Welcome to Hunt the Panties!, where we play for fabulous prizes, including earmuffs and a trip to the broom closet. Who's our first contestant?" "Ooh, me, me!" Josh says as he takes off his jacket. I am on my hands and knees in the front hall closet, looking through every coat pocket and boot. Nothing. "Jesus, Nan, this place is amazing-it's like the fucking Metropolitan Museum." "Yup, and about as cozy," Sarah says, as I run frantically into the living room. "We don't have time to shoot the breeze!" I call over my shoulder. "Pick a room!" "So, do we get points for any undergarments, or must they have a scarlet A on them?" Josh asks. "Extra points for crotchless and edible." Sarah explains the rules for the game I am not finding amusing. "All right!" I say. "Listen up! We are going to be methodical. We are going to start in the rooms that get the most use, where the panties would be uncovered the soonest. Joshua, you take the master bedroom, Mrs. X's dressing room, and her office. Sarah Anne!" "Reporting for duty, sir!" "Kitchen, library, maid's rooms. I'll take the living room, the dining room, the study, and the laundry room. Okay?" "What about Grayer's room?" Josh asks me. "Right. I'll start there." I turn on each light as I pass, even the rarely used overheads, illuminating the darkest corners of the Xes' home. "Nan, you can't say we didn't try," Josh says, passing me a cigarette as we sit by the recycling bins in the back stairwell. "She was probably bluffing, hoping you'd tell Mrs. X so she can start redecorating." Sarah lights another cigarette. "Besides, whoever finds them in this apartment deserves to find them-they're so well hidden. Are you sure this woman works with Mr. X and not the CIA?" She passes me back the lighter. Josh is still holding the porcelain Pekingeser dog he picked up on his search. "Tell me again." "I don't know, two, maybe three thousand dollars," Sarah says. "Unbelievable! Why? Why? What am I missing?" He looks down at the dog in complete disbelief. "Wait, I'm gonna go get something else." "You better put that back exactly where you found it," I say, too tired to chase after him to be sure he does. "I'm sorry I made you waste your night looking for panties," I say, stubbing out the cigarette on the metal railing. "Hey," she says, putting her arm around my shoulder. "You'll be fine. The Xes have jewelry that has jewelry-they'll be fine." "What about Grayer?" "Well, he has you. And you've got H. H." "Okay, I don't got nuthin'. I have an answering-machine tape in my jewelry box and a plastic spoon I carry around in ray purse as a souvenir and that might be as far as it goes." "Yeah, yeah, sure. Can I mention the plastic spoon at the wedding?" "Honey, if we make it that far you can carry the plastic spoon at the wedding. Come on, let's get Josh and wipe our fingerprints on our way out of here." When I get home the answering machine is blinking. "Hi, Nanny, it's Mrs. X. I don't know if you've left for Paris yet. I couldn't reach you on your cell phone again. We may have to get you a new one with better coverage. I'm calling because Mr. X gave me a week at the Golden Door for Christmas. Isn't that wonderful? Lyford Cay is so awful and I still haven't recovered from the holidays-I'm just exhausted, so I've decided to go next week. Mr. X will be around, but I was wondering if you'll be back, just so I can tell him you'll be available if he needs you. Just so we know it's covered. I'll be in my room this evening. Call me." My first instinct is to call her and tell her never to leave her house again. "Mrs. X? Hi, it's Nanny." "Yes?" I take a deep breath. "So, will that work?" she asks. "Of course," I say, relieved that she isn't asking about my housecall. "Great. So, I'll see you Monday morning-a week from tomorrow. My flight's at nine, so if you could arrive by seven that would be great. Actually, we better say six forty-five, just to be on the safe side." I roll over for the eighth time in the last fifteen minutes. I'm so tired that my body feels weighted, but every time I'm about to drift off, Grayer's hacking cough echoes through the apartment. I reach over to pull the clock back toward me and the red numbers read 2:36 A.M Jesus. I hit the mattress with my hand and roll onto my back. Staring up at the Xes' guest-room ceiling, I try to add up the few hours of sleep I've managed to get in the past three nights and the total makes me even heavier. I'm bone tired from spending twenty-four/seven keeping Grayer entertained as his mood has blackened and fever risen. When I arrived she greeted me at the elevator with a list in her hand, her bags already waiting in the limo downstairs. She just wanted to "mention" that Grayer had a "tiny bit of an earache" and that his medicine was by the sink, along with his pediatrician's number-"just in case." And the kicker: "We really prefer that Grayer not sit in front of the television. You two have fun!" I knew "fun" was hardly going to be the word for it as soon as I found him lying on the floor next to his trafen set, listlessly rolling a caboose on his arm. "Any idea when Mr. X will be home tonight?" I had asked Connie, dusting nearby. "Hope you brought your pajamas," she replied, wagging her head in disgust. I've come to look forward to Connie's arrival over the past few days; it's a relief to have another person in the apartment, even if she is only a whir of dusting and vacuuming. As the temperature has held steady at seven degrees Fahrenheit, we've been under house arrest since my arrival. This would have been bearable, ideal even, if H. H. hadn't had to go right back up to school for reading period. He said I could take Grayer upstairs to pet Max, but I don't think either one of them is up to it. Grayer's "tiny" earache may have improved, but his cough has only worsened. And, needless to say, his father has been completely MIA-he simply failed to return home my first night. Numerous phone calls to Justine have unearthed only the voice mail of a suite at the Four Seasons in Chicago. Meanwhile the reception desk at the spa is screening Mrs. X's calls as if she were Sharon Stone. I took Grayer back to the doctor this afternoon, but his only advice was for Grayer to finish the pink amoxicillin and wait it out. Another round of raspy coughs-he's even more congested now than he sounded at dinnertime. It's so dark and so late and this place is just so big that I'm starting to feel as if no one will ever come back to get us. I get up, draping the cashmere throw around my shoulders like a cape, and shuffle over to the window. Pulling the heavy chintz drapes to the side, I let the streetlight from Park Avenue spill into the room and rest my forehead against the cold windowpane. A cab pulls up to the building across the street and a boy and girl stumble out. She's in tall boots and a skimpy jacket, leaning against him as they swerve past the doorman and into the building. She must be freezing. My forehead chills quickly from the glass and I pull back, touching it with my hand. The curtain falls closed, taking the light with it. "Naaanny?" Grayer's small, scratchy voice calls out. "Yes, Grover, I'm coming." My voice echoes in the big room. I shuffle through the darkness of the apartment, lit up in weird shadows from passing cars outside. The warm glow of his Grover night-light greets me along with the whir of his Supersonic 2000 air filter. The minute I step through his doorway my stomach drops-he is not okay. His breathing is labored and his eyes are watering. I sit on the corner of the bed. "Hey, sweetheart, I'm here." I put my hand on his forehead. It's boiling. The moment my fingers touch him he starts to whimper. "It's okay, Grover, you're just real sick and I know it's yucky." But I don't know any more. His wheezing alarms me. "I'm going to pick you up now, Grover." I reach my arms under him, the cashmere wrap dropping to the floor. He starts to cry fully, the movement agitating him as I pull him up to me. I go into automatic pilot, running through options. The pediatrician. The emergency room. Mom. I carry him to the hall extension and lean against the wall for support as I dial. My mother answers on the second ring. "Where are you? What's wrong?" "Mom, I can't get into it, but I'm with Grayer and he's been sick with an ear infection and this cough and they've had him on antibiotics, but the cough keeps getting worse and I can't get a message through to Mrs. X because the receptionist says she's been in some sort of sensory-deprivation tank all day and he can't seem to breathe and I don't know if I should take him to the hospital because his fever won't go down and I haven't slept in two nights and-" "Let me hear him cough."

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 29 maj 2011 05:19

Well, while it would be an honor to be related to you, I am here to do a job, and if I'm going to be able to keep doing it then I know you'll be more conscious of respecting my boundaries from now on." Dad claps loudly. I fall back on the floor. "That'll never work," I groan. "Nan, this woman's not God! She's just a person. You need a mantra. You need to go in there like Lao-tzu ... Say no to say yes. Say it with me!" "I say no to say yes. I say no to say yes," I murmur with her as I stare up at the floral wallpaper on the ceiling. Just as we hit a fever pitch, the door flies open and music floods the room. I roll my head to see my grandmother, cheeks flushed to match her layers of red satin, leaning against the door frame. "Darlings! Another masterpiece of a party and my son's hiding in the closet at his fiftieth, just like he did at his fifth. Come, dance with me." In a cloud of perfume, she sashays over to my father and kisses him on the cheek. "Come on, birthday boy, you can leave your tie and cummerbund here, but at least dance a mambo with your mother before the clock strikes twelve!" He rolls his eyes at the rest of us, but the champagne has worn him down. He pulls off his tie and stands up. "And you, lady." She looks down on me sprawled at her feet. "Bring the mink and let's boogie." "Sorry to disappear, Gran. It's just this whole earmuffs thing." "Good lord! Between your father and his tuxedo and you and your earmuffs, I don't want to discuss apparel with this family again until next Christmas! Up and at 'em, gorgeous, the dance floor awaits." Mom helps me to my feet, whispering in my ear as we follow them back to the party. "See, no to say yes. Your dad's chanting it right now." Many dances and bottles of champagne later I float back to my apartment in a bubbly haze. George slides up to my heels as soon as I unlock the door and I carry him back to my corner of the room. "Happy New Year, George," I mumble as he purrs under my chin. Charlene left this morning for Asia and I am giddy with the three weeks of little freedoms this affords me. As I kick off my heels I see the light on my answering machine flashing in a soft blur. Mrs. X. "What do you think, George, shall we risk it?" I bend over to let him down before pressing the "new message" button. "Hi, Nan? Um, this is a message for Nan. I think this is the right number . .." H. H.'s slurred voice fills the apartment. "Oh, my God!" I scream, turning to check my appearance in the mirror. "Right. So um, yeah.. . I'm just calling to say 'Happy New Year.' Um, I'm in Africa. And-wait-what time is it there? Seven hours, that's ten . .. eleven ... twelve. Right. So I'm with my family and we're about to head into the bush. And we've been having some beers with the guides. And it's the last outpost with a phone . .. But I just wanted to say that I bet you had a hard week. See! I know how you've been working hard and I just wanted you to know, um ...that I know ... that you do ... work hard, that is. Um, and that you have a happy New Year. Okay, so then-I hope this is your machine. Right. So that's all, just wanted you to know. Um ... bye." I stumble to my bed in utter euphoria. "Oh, my God," I mumble again in the darkness, before passing out with a grin plastered to my face. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. "Hi, you've reached Charlene and Nan. Please leave a message." Beep. "Hi, Nanny, I hope you're in. I'm sure you're probably in. Well, Happy New Year." I crack one eye open. "It's Mrs. X. I hope you've had a good vacation. I'm calling because .. ." Jesus, it's eight o'clock in the morning! "Well, there's been a change of plans. Mr. X apparently needs to go back to Illinois for work. And I, well, Grayer's- we're all very disappointed. So, anyway, we won't be going to Aspen and I wanted to see what you're up to for the rest of the month." On New Year's Day! I stick my hand outside the covers and start flailing for the phone. I unplug the receiver and throw it on the floor. There. I pass out again. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. "Hi, you've reached Charlene and Nan. Please leave a message." Beep. "Hi, Nanny, it's Mrs. X. I left you a message earlier." I crack one eye open. "I don't know if I mentioned, but if you could let me know today ..." Jesus, it's nine-thirty in the morning! On New Year's Day! I stick my hand outside the covers and start flailing for the phone and this time actually manage to pull the right plug out. Ahh, peace. "Hi, you've reached Charlene and Nan. Please leave a message." Beep. "Hi, Nanny, it's Mrs. X," Jesus! It's ten o'clock in the morning! What is wrong with you people? This time I can hear Grayer crying in the background. Not my problem, not my problem, earmuffs. I stick my hand outside the covers and start flailing for the answering machine. I find the volume. "Because you didn't say if you had any plans and I just thought-" Ahh, silence. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.

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Oh dear -- I have just returned from one of Kitty Coleman's At Homes with such a headache. In January something happened that I had always dreaded might one day. Kitty Coleman changed her At Homes to Wednesday afternoons so that she could attend some sort of meeting in Highgate on Tuesdays. (At least that means she will not be coming to my At Homes!) Now I have felt obliged to go -- not every week, I should hope, but at least once or twice a month. I managed to get out of the first few, saying I had a chill, or that the girls were unwell, but I couldn't use that excuse every time. So today I went along, taking Lavinia and Ivy May with me for support. When we arrived the room was already full of women. Kitty Coleman welcomed us and then flitted across the room without making introductions. I must say it was the loudest At Home I have ever attended. Everyone was talking at once, and I am not sure anyone was actually listening. But I listened, and as I did my eyes grew big and my mouth small. I didn't dare say a word. The room was full of suffragettes. Two were discussing a meeting they were to attend in Whitechapel. Another was passing around a design for poster of a woman waving a sign from a train window that read 'Votes for Women'. When I saw it I turned to my daughters. 'Lavinia,' I said, 'go and help Maude.' Maude was serving tea across the room, and looked as miserable as { felt. 'And don't listen to what anyone around you is saying' I added. Lavinia was staring hard at Kitty Coleman. 'Did you hear me, Lavinia?' I asked. She shook her head and shrugged, as if to shake away my words, then made a face and crossed the room to Maude. 'Ivy May,' I said, 'would you like to go downstairs and ask the cook if she needs help, please.' Ivy May nodded and disappeared. She is a good girl. A woman next to me was saying she had just been speaking at a rally in Manchester and had rotten tomatoes thrown at her. 'At least it wasn't rotten eggs!' another woman cried, and everyone laughed. Well, almost everyone laughed. A few women like myself were very quiet, and looked just as shocked as I felt. They must have been Kitty's old friends who came to the At Home expecting pleasant conversation and Mrs Baker's excellent scones. One of them, less timid than me, finally spoke. 'What is it that you speak about at these rallies in Manchester?' The tomato woman gave her an incredulous look. 'Why, for women to have the vote, of course!' The poor woman turned bright red, as if she herself had been hit by a tomato, and I was mortified for her. To her credit, Caroline Black came to her rescue. 'The Women's Social and Political Union is campaigning to have a bill brought before Parliament that would allow women the right to vote in government elections, just as men do,' she explained. 'We are rallying the support of women and men all over the country by speaking publicly, writing to newspapers, lobbying MPs, and signing petitions. Have you seen the WSPU's pamphlet? Do take one and read it -- it is so informative. You can place a donation for it on the table by the door when you go. And don't forget to pass on the pamphlet when you are done -- it is really surprising how much life there is in a little pamphlet when you hand it on to others.' She was in her element, speaking so smoothly and gently and yet also forcefully that several women indeed took away pamphlets and left coins by the door -- myself included, I am ashamed to admit. When the pile of pamphlets reached me, Caroline Black was watching me with such a sweet smile on her face that I had to take one. I could not bring myself to hide it down the back of the sofa as I might have liked. I did that later, at home. Kitty Coleman did not take the floor in quite the same way as Caroline Black, but she was still in an excited state, her eyes glittering, her cheeks flushed as if she were at a ball and had not stopped dancing once. She did not look entirely healthy. I know I should not say this, but I wish she and Caroline Black had never met. Kitty's transformation has been dramatic, and undoubtedly it has pulled her out of the bad way she was in, but she has not gone back to her old self. She has changed into something altogether more radical. Not that I was greatly enamoured of her old self, but I prefer that to her present state. Even when she is not at her At Homes with suffragettes everywhere, she still talks incessantly about politics and women this and women that till I want to cover my ears. She has bought herself a bicycle and goes around even in the wind and rain, getting grease marks all down her skirts - if they are not already covered in chalk from all the signs she has been drawing on pavements about meetings and rallies and such. Whenever I find her crouched somewhere with a bit of chalk, I cross the road and pretend not to see her. She is never at home now in the afternoons, but always at a meeting, and neglects poor Maude shamelessly. Sometimes I think of Maude as my third daughter, she is at our house so often. Not that I am complaining - Maude is very thoughtful, helping me with tea or Ivy May with her schoolwork. She sets a good example for Lavinia, who I am sorry to say never seems to take it up. It is very peculiar that one daughter can have a mother who pays her no attention and yet turns out well, while the other gets all the attention in the world and yet is so difficult and selfish. It was a relief to leave Kitty's At Home. Lavinia seemed eager to come away as well. Back at home she was very kind to me, sending me off to bed to nurse my head while she insisted on making supper. I don't even mind that she burned the soup. JENNY WHITBY Lord, I hope these At Homes don't last. Since the missus switched 'em to Wednesdays I'm run off my feet. At least I've got Maude to help - though I don't know that she'll stick it. The whole afternoon she looked like she wanted to bolt, even when Lavinia came to keep her company. That one makes me laugh. When she's here she watches the missus with an outraged look on her face. And when the master's home, she looks at him all puzzled and sorrowful. She hasn't said nothing, though, nor tried to send another letter - I've kept an eye out. I've no intention of letting her wreck this house - I need my wages. As it is I'm not managing to pay for Jack. Or I am, but I've had to do something I never thought I'd stoop to - taking spoons to sell from an old silver set in the sideboard what the missus' mum left her. They don't use it, and no one but me ever polishes it. It ain't right, I know, but I don't have no choice. I finally listened to them suffragettes today as I passed round the scones. What I heard made me want to spit. They talk about helping women but it turns out they're choosy about who exactly gets the help. They ain't fighting for my vote -- only for women who own property or went to university. But that Caroline Black had the nerve to ask me to donate some of my wages 'for the cause'. I told her I wouldn't give a penny until the cause had anything to do with me! I were so mad I had to tell Mrs Baker about it when we were washing up afterwards. 'What did she say to that?' Mrs Baker asked. 'Oh, that men would never agree to give the vote to everyone all at once, that they had to start with some women and once they'd secured that they would fight for everyone. But ain't it always the way that they put themselves first? Why can't they fight for us first, I say. Let working women decide what's what.' Mrs Baker chuckled. 'You wouldn't know who to vote for if they bit you on your arse, and you know it.' 'I would!' I cried. 'I ain't that stupid. Labour, of course. Labour for a labouring woman. But these ladies upstairs won't vote Labour, or even Liberal. They're all Tories like their husbands, and them Tories'll never give the vote to women, no matter what they say.' Mrs Baker didn't say nothing. Maybe she was surprised I was talking politics. To be honest, I were surprised at myself. I've been round too many suffragettes -- they're starting to make me talk a load of rubbish.

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 29 maj 2011 05:12

Seven years was a long time to be away from one's clan. A man's place was not always there, waiting for him. As soon as he left, someone else rose and filled it. The clan was like a lizard, if it lost its tail it soon grew another. Okonkwo knew these things. He knew that he had lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administered justice in the clan. He had lost the chance to lead his warlike clan against the new religion, which, he was told, had gained ground. He had lost the years in which he might have taken the highest titles in the clan. But some of these losses were not irreparable. He was determined that his return should be marked by his people. He would return with a flourish, and regain the seven wasted years. Even in his first year in exile he had begun to plan for his return. The first thing he would do would be to rebuild his compound on a more magnificent scale. He would build a bigger barn than he had had before and he would build huts for two new wives. Then he would show his wealth by initiating his sons into the ozo society. Only the really great men in the clan were able to do this. Okonkwo saw clearly the high esteem in which he would be held, and he saw himself taking the highest title in the land. As the years of exile passed one by one it seemed to him that his chi might now be making amends for the past disaster. His yams grew abundantly, not only in his motherland but also in Umuofia, where his friend gave them out year by year to sharecroppers. Then the tragedy of his first son had occurred. At first it appeared as if it might prove too great for his spirit. But it was a resilient spirit, and in the end Okonkwo overcame his sorrow. He had five other sons and he would bring them up in the way of the clan. He sent for the five sons and they came and sat in his obi. The youngest of them was four years old. "You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people. If any one of you prefers to be a woman, let him follow Nwoye now while I am alive so that I can curse him. If you turn against me when I am dead I will visit you and break your neck." Okonkwo was very lucky in his daughters. He never stopped regretting that Ezinma was a girl. Of all his children she alone understood his every mood. A bond of sympathy had grown between them as the years had passed. Ezinma grew up in her father's exile and became one of the most beautiful girls in Mbanta. She was called Crystal of Beauty, as her mother had been called in her youth. The young ailing girl who had caused her mother so much heartache had been transformed, almost overnight, into a healthy, buoyant maiden. She had, it was true, her moments of depression when she would snap at everybody like an angry dog. These moods descended on her suddenly and for no apparent reason. But they were very rare and short-lived. As long as they lasted, she could bear no other person but her father. Many young men and prosperous middle-aged men of Mbanta came to marry her. But she refused them all, because her father had called her one evening and said to her: "There are many good and prosperous people here, but I shall be happy if you marry in Umuofia when we return home." That was all he had said. But Ezinma had seen clearly all the thought and hidden meaning behind the few words. And she had agreed. "Your half-sister, Obiageli, will not understand me," Okonkwo said. "But you can explain to her." Although they were almost the same age, Ezinma wielded a strong influence over her half-sister. She explained to her why they should not marry yet, and she agreed also. And so the two of them refused every offer of marriage in Mbanta. "I wish she were a boy," Okonkwo thought within himself. She understood things so perfectly. Who else among his children could have read his thoughts so well? With two beautiful grown-up daughters his return to Umuofia would attract considerable attention. His future sons-in-law would be men of authority in the clan. The poor and unknown would not dare to come forth. Umuofia had indeed changed during the seven years Okonkwo had been in exile. The church had come and led many astray. Not only the low-born and the outcast but sometimes a worthy man had joined it. Such a man was Ogbuefi Ugonna, who had taken two titles, and who like a madman had cut the anklet of his titles and cast it away to join the Christians. The white missionary was very proud of him and he was one of the first men in Umuofia to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, or Holy Feast as it was called in Ibo. Ogbuefi Ugonna had thought of the Feast in terms of eating and drinking, only more holy than the village variety. He had therefore put his drinking-horn into his goatskin bag for the occasion.

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One short phone call later and Grayer is not only dancing and singing the actual "Here we come a wassailing among the leaves so green," which is infinitely less painful, but I have been inspired with a delicious plan. As I give Grayer's wassailing outfit (green and red striped turtle-neck, felt reindeer antlers, candy-cane suspenders) a final once-over for "ultra wassailyness," Mrs. X comes bustling in, Ramon in tow, laden with boxes. Her cheeks are rosy, her eyes are glistening. "Oh, it is a zoo out there, a zoo! I nearly got into a fight with a woman at Hammacher Schlemmer-put them down over there, Ramon-over the last ScrewPull, but I just let her have it, I thought there is no point descending to her level. I think she was from out of town. Oh, I found the most darling wallets at Gucci. Does Cleveland understand Gucci? I wonder-thank you, Ramon. Oh, I hope they like them- Grayer what have you been up to?" "Nothing," he says, while practicing his soft-shoe by the umbrella stand. "Before lunch we made unsweetened cookies and decorated them and then we've been practicing carols and I read him The Night Before Christmas in French," I say, trying to jog his memory. "Oh, wonderful. I wish someone would read to me." She takes off her mink and nearly hands it to Ramon. "Oh, that's all, Ramon, thank you." She claps her hands together. "So, what are you up to now?" "I was going to let Grayer practice his caroling-" "WASSAILING!" "-on some of the elderly in the building, who might appreciate a little holiday cheer!" Mrs. X is beaming. "Oh, excellent! What a good boy you are and that'll keep him o-c-c-u-p-i-e-d. I have so much to do! Have fun!" I let Grayer press for the elevator. "Which floor, Nanny?" "Let's start with your friend on eleven." We have to buzz three times before we hear "Coming!" from inside the apartment. As soon as the door opens it's apparent the hour and a half of "practicing" was well worth it. H. H. leans against the door frame in faded Christmas-tree boxers and a well-worn Andover T-shirt, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "HERE WE COME A-WASSAILING.' AMONG THE LEAVES SO GREEN.'.'/" Grayer is red faced, swaying back and forth, with his jazz hands splayed and antlers waving. For a split second it crosses my mind that he might literally sing his heart out. "LOVE AND JOY COME TO YOU.'.'.'" His voice ricochets around the vestibule, bouncing off every surface so that it sounds as if he's a chorus of emphatic wassailers. A wassailing riot. When it appears he has reached his conclusion, H. H. bends down and opens his mouth. "AND GOD BLESS YOU.'.'.'" This move mistakenly places him at ground zero to be blasted with the spit and sweat of Grayer's effort, which is then followed by an even louder finale. "Well, good morning to you, too, Grayer!" Grayer collapses onto the vestibule floor, panting to catch his breath. I smile beguilingly. Make no bones about it; I am a girl with a mission. I am here to get a Date. A Real Date with a plan and a location and everything. "We're caroling-" I begin. "Wassailing," a small exasperated voice pipes in from the floor. "Wassailing around the building." "Can I have a cookie now?" Grayer sits up, ready to be rewarded for his efforts. H. H. turns into his apartment. "Sure. Come on in. Don't mind my pajamas." Oh, if you insist. We follow his boxer-clad body into what is essentially the Xes' apartment, only two floors higher, and one would never guess that we were even in the same building. The walls in the front hall are painted a deep brick red and are decorated with National Geographic type black-and-white photographs between kilim tapestries. There are sneakers lining the floor and dog hair on the carpet. We make our way into the kitchen where we practically trip over a huge, graying yellow Lab lying on the floor. "Grayer, you know Max, right?" Grayer hunkers down and with uncharacteristic gentleness rubs Max's ears. Max's tail animatedly pounds the tiles in response. I look around; instead of the large island that Mrs. X has in the middle of the room, there's an old refectory table piled high at one end with the Times. "Cookies? Anyone want cookies?" H. H. asks, brandishing a Christmas tin of David's cookies that he has pulled from a teetering pile of holiday baked goods on the sideboard. Grayer runs over to help himself and I force myself to focus. "Just one, Grover." "Oh, man." "Do you want milk with that?" He heads to the fridge and returns with a full glass. "Thank you so much," I say. "Hey, Grayer, anything you want to say to our host?" "Thanks!" he mumbles, his mouth full of cookie. "No, man, thank you! It's the least I can do after such a powerful performance." He smiles over at me. "I can't remember the last time someone sang to me when it wasn't my birthday." "I can do that! I can do 'Happy Birthday'-" He puts his glass down on the floor and places his hands into the jazz position in preparation. "Whoa! We have done our fair share of wassailing already-" I put my hand out to shield us from another round. "Grayer, it's not my birthday today. But I promise I'll let you know when it is." Teamwork, I love it. "Okay. Let's go, Nanny. Got to wassail. Let's go now." Grayer hands H. H. his empty glass, wipes his gloved hand across his lips, and heads for the door. I stand up from the table, not really wanting to leave. "I'm sorry I never caught up with you that night; their party ran really late." "That's all right, you didn't miss anything. The Next Thing was having a private party, so we just ended up getting pizza at Ruby's." As in the Ruby's that is exactly twenty feet from my front stoop. The irony. "How long are you home for?" I ask without batting an eyelash. "NA-NNY. The elevator's here!" "Just a week and then we go to Africa." The elevator door waiting, my heart pounding. "Well, I'm around if you want to hang out this weekend," I say as I step in beside Grayer. "Yeah, great," he says from the doorway. "Great." I nod my head as the door slides closed. "GREAT!" Grayer sings as a warm-up to our next performance. Short of writing my number on a piece of paper and shoving it under his door, I leave 721 Park on Friday night knowing there is no way I am going to see H. H. before he leaves for Africa. Ugh. That night I make Sarah, who's home for Christmas vacation, accompany me to a holiday party being given downtown by some guys in my class. The whole apartment is festively decorated in glowing jalapeno-pepper lights and someone has glued a cutout of a large penis onto the picture of Santa in the living room. It takes less than five minutes to decide that we don't want a Bud Light from the bathtub, a fistful of corn chips from a filmy bowl, or to take any of the frat boys up on their gracious offers of quick oral sex. We head Josh off on the stairs. "No fun?" he asks. "Well," Sarah says, "I love to play strip quarters as much as the next girl, but-" "Sarah!" Josh cries, giving her a hug. "Lead on!" Several hours later find me doing a martini-sodden rendition of the wassailing story for Sarah in a corner booth at the Next Thing while Josh hits on some fashionista at the bar. "And then ... he gave him a cookie! That must mean something, right?" We do an interpretive dance of every subtle nuance of the entire five-minute exchange until we have completely wrung the encounter of any meaning it might possibly have had. "So then he said 'Great' and then I said 'Great.'" Saturday morning I wake with my shoes still on, a killer hangover, and only one day to buy presents for my entire family, the Xes, and the many little people I've taken care of over the years. The Gleason girls have already sent over two glitter pens and a rock with my name painted on it-I've got to get my act together. I wolf down tomato sauce on toast, drink a liter of water, grab a double shot of espresso on the corner, and ba-da-bing, I am alive with the Holiday Spirit. An hour later I emerge from Barnes and Noble Junior a good $ 150 lighter, prompting me to do a little math as I walk down Park. Forget Paris, I'm going to need that stupid bonus just to pay off Christmas. I walk down Madison to Bergdorf s to get a Rigaud candle for Mrs. X. It may be tiny, but at least she'll know it wasn't cheap. As I stand on line for the all-important stiver gift wrap I try to figure out what to get the four-year-old who has everything. What would make him really happy, short of his father actually making an appearance to do the high-ups? Well... a night-light, because he's scared of the dark. And maybe a bus-pass holder that could keep that card protected before it completely disintegrates. As I'm on Fifty-eighth and Fifth, the logical thing would be to cross the street to FAO Schwarz's enormous Sesame Street section to find him a Grover night-light, but I can't, can't, can't. I debate which would be faster, taking the train to a Toys "R" Us in Queens or navigating a few thousand square feet of bedlam just a block away. Against my better judgment, I drag myself across Fifth to wait in line with the entire population of Nebraska in the cold for over half an hour before being ushered into the revolving doors by a tall toy soldier. "Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world of toys," blasts relentlessly from mysteriously placed speakers, making it sound as if the eerie, childlike singing is coming from within my own head. Yet it cannot drown out the tortured cries of "But I waaaant it!! I neeeeed it!!" that also fill the air. And this is only the stuffed-animal floor. Upstairs is total chaos; children are firing ray guns, throwing slime, sports equipment, and siblings. I look around at parents who share my "let's just get through this" expression and employees trying to make it to lunch without sustaining serious bodily injury. I slither to Sesame Street Corner where a little girl of about three has prostrated herself on the floor and is sobbing for injustice everywhere. "Maybe Santa will bring you one, Sally."

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 29 maj 2011 05:05

Nanny! I'm waiting. Come onnnn!" I follow his voice around the maze of floor-to-ceiling cages lining the walls. Some are more packed than others, but each has the requisite luggage, ski equipment, and random pieces of bubble-wrapped furniture. I round the bend and see Grove lying on his stomach atop his skateboard under a sign that says 132, pulling himself along the wired wall by his hands. "Oh, man, it's gonna be so fun when Daddy comes home and does the tree. Caitlin gets us started and Daddy does the high-ups and we have hot chocolate in the living room." "Sounds pretty cool. Here, I have the key," I say, holding it out toward him. He jumps up and down as I unlock the cage and then proceeds to deftly make his way in around the boxes. I let him lead as he's clearly made this trek before and I wouldn't know a storage locker from an Easy-Bake oven. I sit down on the cold cement and lean back on the cage door facing that of the Xes. My parents used to daydream about storage space, sitting with both feet up on the trunk packed to bursting with our summer clothes that served as our coffee table. On occasion, we'd allow ourselves to talk about what we could do with one extra closet-much as a family in Wyoming might fantasize about winning the lottery. "Do you know what you're looking for, Grove?" I call into the piles, as I haven't heard anything in a few minutes. Loud clanging noises break the silence. "Grayer! What's going on in there?" I start to stand up as his flashlight comes rolling out of the darkness and stops at my feet. "Just getting my stuff out, Nanny! Turn the light on me, I'm going to get the blue box!" I click the high beam on and point it into the cage as directed, illuminating two dirtied socks and a little khaki rear end tunneling into the middle of the pile. "Are you sure that's safe, Grayer? I think maybe I should ..." What, crawl in behind him? "I got it. Oh, man, there's lotsa stuff back here. My skis! These are my skis, Nanny, for when we go to Aspirin." "Aspen?" "Aspen. Found it! Going to pass 'em out. Get ready. You get ready, Nanny, here they come." He is far into the boxes. I hear fumbling and then a glass ball comes flying out of the darkness at me. I drop the flashlight and catch it. It is handblown and has a Steuben mark on it, along with a red hook. Before I can look up another one comes flying out. "GRAYER! FREEZE!" With the flashlight rolling around on the floor, casting a weird light on Grayer's boxes, I realize I've been letting Mickey Mouse run the show. "Back it up, mister, back it right on up. It's your turn to hold the flashlight." "N oooooo." "Gray-er!" It's the Wicked Witch voice. "FINE!" He tunnels back out. I hand him the flashlight. "Now let's try this again, only this time you'll be me and I'll be you." When we get back up to the apartment Grayer marches ahead to establish a plan of attack while I gingerly set the box of ornaments down in the front hall. "Nanny?" I hear a small voice call for me. "Yes, G?" I follow him into the living room where a flamboyant Johnny Cash is on a ladder, decorating Grayer's tree. "Pass me that box of doves," he says, not even turning to look at us. Grayer and I, standing safely by the door, survey the living room floor, which is littered with doves, gold leaves, Victorian angels, and strings of pearls. "Get down. My dad does the high-ups." "Hold on a sec, Grayer," I say as I pass off the birds to the man in black. "I'll be right back." "You better get down or my daddy's gonna be mad at you," I hear Grayer challenge as I knock on Mrs. X's office door. "Come in." "Hi, Mrs. X? Sorry to bother you-" The room, ordinarily pristine, has been taken over by her "elfing" and stacks and stacks of Christmas cards. "No, no, come in-what is it?" I open my mouth. "Have you met Julio? Isn't he a genius? I'm so lucky I got him-he is the the tree expert. You should see what he did at the Egglestons-it was just breathtaking." "While I've got you, can I ask? Is a plaid taffeta skirt just too cliche for a Scottish Christmas party? I can't decide-" "Oh! You should see-I bought the cutest twinsets today for Mr. X's nieces. I hope they're the right color. Would you wear winter-weight cashmere pastels?" She pulls out a TSE shopping bag. "I might exchange them-" "I was just wondering," I cut in, "Grayer was really looking forward to decorating the tree. He said it was something he did with Caitlin last year and I was wondering if maybe I could just get him a small tree for his room that he could hang a couple of ornaments on, just for fun-" "I really don't think it would be a good idea to be traipsing needles all over that part of the house." She searches for a solution. "If he wants a tree activity, why don't you take him to Rockefeller Center?" "Well... Yeah, no, yeah, that's a great idea," I say as I open the door. "Thanks-I'm just so overwhelmed!" When I get back in the living room Grayer is holding a silver baby spoon on a string and tapping on Julio's ladder. "Hey! How about this? Where does this go?" he asks. Julio looks down in disgust at the spoon. "That doesn't really gel with my vision-" Grayer's eyes start to well up. "Well, if you must. In the back. On the bottom." "G, I've got a plan. Grab Al, I'll get your coat." "Grandma, Grayer. Grayer, this is Grandma." My grandmother crouches down in her black satin pajama pants, her pearls clicking together as she extends her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Grayer. And darling, you must be Al." Grayer blushes deeply. "Well, are we doing Christmas or what? Everybody in who wants rugelach." "Thanks so much, Gran. We were in desperate need of a surface to decorate." The doorbell rings behind us as I reach to take off Grayer's coat. "A surface! Don't be ridiculous." She reaches over Grayer's head to open the door and there stands a huge tree with two arms wrapped around it. "Right this way!" she says. "Now, Grayer," she whispers, "you cover Al's eyes. It's all about the surprise." We kick off our boots and follow closely behind them into the apartment. I've got to hand it to her-she has the deliveryman place it squarely in the middle of the living room. She sees him out and returns to join us. "Grandma, you really didn't have to get a-" "If you're going to do something, darling, then do it all the way. Now, Grayer, let me hit the special effects and we'll get this soiree started." Grayer holds his hands carefully over Al's eyes as my grandmother turns on Frank Sinatra-"Can't find Bing," she mouths- and hits the lights. She's lit candles all about the room, setting a beautiful glow around our family pictures, and as Frank croons "The Lady Is a Tramp," it's breathtaking. She leans down to Grayer. "Well, sir, whenever you're ready, I believe Al should meet his tree." We both make drum-roll noises as Grayer takes his hands off Al's eyes and asks him exactly where he would like to hang out first. An hour later the two of us are lounging on cushions beneath the green boughs, sipping hot chocolate, while Grayer relocates Al at whim. "So, how's the drama with your H. H.?" "I can't get a read on him. I want him to be different from those boys, but there's really no good reason why he would be. Of course, if I never see him again it's pretty irrelevant." "Keep riding the elevator, dear. He'll show up. So, how are finals going?" she asks. "Only one more and I'm done. It's been insane-the Xes have been out at Christmas parties every night. I only study after Grayer goes to sleep, which, ultimately, is probably better than trying to concentrate over the sounds of Charlene and her hairy boyfriend-" She looks at me. "Don't even get me started." "Well, just don't wear yourself out. It's not worth it." "I know. But the bonus is bound to be good this year-she's mentioned Paris." "Oh la la, tres bien." "Nanny, Al wants to know why Daddy isn't doing the high-ups," Grayer asks quietly from behind the tree. I look over at her, unsure how to answer him. "Grayer"-she smiles at me reassuringly-"has Nan told you about wassailing?" He emerges. "What did you say?" He comes up close to her and puts his hand on her knee.

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'Doesn't matter -- I can have them cleaned afterwards. How do you climb down -- with a ladder?' 'No, no, no ladder,' our Pa says. 'With a deep un like this we got all this wood stuck in, see, every foot or two, to keep the sides from caving in. We climbs up and down it. But don't you go doing that,' he adds, but too late, 'cause Livy's climbing down already. All I can see of her is her two legs sticking out from a dress and petticoats. 'Don't come down, Livy,' I say, but I don't mean it. She's climbing down the wood frame like she's done it all her life. Then she's down on the coffin with me. There,' she says. 'Are you pleased to see me?' 'Course.' Livy looks round and shivers. 'It's cold down here. And so muddy!' What'd you expect? It's a grave, after all.' Livy scrapes her toe in the clay on the coffin. 'Who's in there?' I shrug. 'Dunno. Who's in the coffin, our Pa?' I call up. No, let me guess,' Livy says. 'It's a little girl who caught Pneumonia. Or a man who drowned in one of the Heath ponds trying to save his dog. Or ' 'It's an old man,' our Pa calls down. 'Nat'ral causes.' Our Pa likes to find out something about who we bury, usually from listening to the mourners at the graveside. Livy looks disappointed. 'I think I shall lie down,' she says. 'You don't want to do that,' I say. 'It's muddy, like you said.' She don't listen to me. She sits down on the coffin lid and then she stretches out, her hair getting mud in it and all. 'There,' she says, crossing her hands over her chest like she's dead. She looks up at the sky. I can't believe she don't mind the mud. Maybe she's gone doolally. 'Don't do that, Livy,' I say. 'Get up.' She still lies there, her eyes closed, and I stare at her face. It's strange seeing something so pretty lying there in the mud. She's got a mouth makes me think of some chocolate-covered cherries Maude gave me once. I wonder if her lips taste like that. 'Where's Maude?' I say to stop thinking of it. Livy makes a face but keeps her eyes shut. 'Over at the library with her mother.' 'Mrs C.'s out and about?' I shouldn't have said nothing, nor sounded surprised. Livy) opens her eyes, like a dead un suddenly come to life. 'what do you know about Maude's mother?' 'Nothing,' I say quickly. 'Just that she was ill. That's all-I've said it too quickly. Livy notices. It's funny -- she's no like Ivy May, who sees everything. But when she wants to she notices things. 'Mrs Coleman was ill, but that was over two months ago' she says. 'She does look dreadful but there's something else wrong. I just know it.' Livy sits up. 'And you know it-' I shift from one foot to the other. 'I don't know nothing.' 'You do.' Livy smiles. 'You're hopeless at lying, Simon. now, what do you know about Maude's mother?' 'Nothing I'm going to tell you.' Livy looks pleased and I wish I hadn't said even that. 'I knew there was something,' she says. 'And I know that you're going to tell me.' 'Why should I tell you anything?' 'Because I'm going to let you kiss me if you do.' I stare at her mouth. She's just licked her lips and they're all glistening like rain on leaves. She's trapped me. I move towards her, but she pulls her face back. Tell me first.' I shake my head. I hate to say it but I don't trust Livy. I have to have my kiss before I'll say a word. 'I'll only tell you after.' 'No, kiss after.' I shake my head again, and Livy sees I'm serious. She lies back down on the mud. 'All right, then. But I must pretend I'm Sleeping Beauty and you're the prince who wakes me.' She closes her eyes and crosses her hands over her chest again like she's dead. I look up. Our Pa ain't hanging over the grave -- he must've sat down to wait with the bottle. I don't know how long I'll be lucky, so I lean over quick and Press my mouth against Livy's. She stays still. Her lips are soft. I touch them with my tongue -- they don't taste like chocolate cherries, but like salt. I move back onto my heels and Livy opens her eyes. We look at each other but don't Say nothing. She smiles a little. Simon, get yourself going, lad. We've another to dig after this our Pa calls down. He's standing up top leaning over like he's going to fall in. I don't know if he saw us kissing - he don't say. 'You need help up, missie?' he says. I don't want him coming down here when Livy's with me. Three people is too much in a grave. 'Leave her 'lone,' I call up. 'I'll bring her out.' 'I'll come up myself as soon as Simon answers my question' Livy says. Our Pa looks like he's going to climb down, so I has to say it quick. 'Mrs C. visited our Ma,' I whisper. 'What, on a charity visit?' 'Who says we need charity?' Livy don't answer. 'Anyhow, it were business, not charity.' 'Your mother is a midwife, isn't she?' 'Yes, but-' 'Do you mean she's had another child?' Livy's eyes get big. 'Maude has a secret brother or sister somewhere? How exciting! I do hope it's a brother.' 'It weren't that,' I say quickly. 'She don't have a brother nor suchlike. It were the other. Getting rid of the brother or sister before it's born. Else it would've been a bastard, see.' 'Oh!' Livy sits up straight and stares at me, her eyes still big. I wish I'd never said a thing. Some people's meant to be innocent of life, and Livy's one of 'em. 'Oh!' she says again, and starts to cry. She lays back down on the mud. 'It's all right, Livy. Our Ma was gentle. But it took her a time to recover.' 'What will I tell Maude?' she sobs. 'Don't tell her nothing,' I say quickly, not wanting it to get worse. 'She don't need to know.' 'But she can't possibly live with her mother in those circumstances.' not?' 'She can come and live with us. I'll ask Mama. I'm sure she'll say yes, especially when she's heard why.' Livy's stopped crying now. 'Don't tell her nothing, Livy,' I say. Then I hear a scream overhead and look up. Livy's mother is looking down at us with Maude peeking over her shoulder. Ivy May's standing by herself on the other side of the grave. 'Lavinia, what on earth are you doing lying down there?' her mother cries. 'Get out at once!' 'Hello, Mama,' Livy says calmly, like she ain't just been crying. She sits up. 'Were you looking for me?' Livy's mum sinks to her feet and starts to cry, not quiet like Livy did, but noisy with lots of gasping. 'It's all right, Mrs Waterhouse,' Maude says, patting her shoulder. 'Lavinia's fine. She's coming right up, aren't you, Lavinia?' She glares at us. Livy smiles a funny smile, and I know she's thinking about Maude's ma. 'Don't you dare tell her, Livy,' I whisper. Livy don't say nothing, nor look at me. She just climbs up the wood fast and is gone before I can say more. Ivy May drops a clod of clay into the grave. It falls at my feet. It's quiet when they're all gone. I start scraping mud into the cracks round the coffin. Our Pa comes and sits down at the side of the grave, dangling his legs over the edge. I can smell the bottle. 'You going to help me or what, our Pa?' I say. 'You ear, bring the Lamb's box over now.' Our Pa shakes his head. 'It's no use kissing girls like her; he says. So he did see. 'Why not?' I say. Our Pa shakes his head again. Them girls is not for you, boy. You know that. They like you 'cause you're different from them, is all. They'll even let you kiss 'em, once. But you won't get nowhere with 'em.' 'I'm not trying to get nowhere with 'em.' Our Pa starts to chuckle. 'Sure you're not, boy. Sure you're not.' 'Hush, our Pa. You just hush.' I go back to my mud -it's easier than talking to him. LAVINIA WATERHOUSE At last I have reached a decision. I have felt sick ever since Simon told me. Mama thinks I caught a chill down in the grave, but it is not that. I am suffering from Moral Repulsion. Even Simon's kiss -- which I shall never tell a soul about - could not make up for the horror of the news about Kitty Coleman. When they came to get me at the cemetery, I could hardly look at Maude. I knew that she was annoyed with me, but I genuinely felt ill and could not speak. Then we returned to the library and I felt even worse when I saw Maude's mother. Luckily she paid no attention to me -- she was in the clutches of a frightening woman who Maude told me is a local suffragette. (I don't understand what all the fuss is about with voting. Politics are so dull -- what woman would want to vote anyway?) They walked home arm in arm, talking intimately as if they had known each other for years, and ignored me, which is just as well. It is truly astonishing how brazen Maude's mother is, given what she has done. I have not been comfortable with Maude since that day, and, indeed, for a time felt too ill to see her or go to school I know she thought I was simply pretending, but I felt so burdened. Then, thank goodness, it was half term, and Maude went off to see her aunt in Lincolnshire, and so [ could avoid her for a time. Now she is back, though, and the burden of my knowledge is greater than ever. I hate to keep such a secret from her, and indeed, from everyone, and that has made me sick. I have not told Mama, for I cannot bring myself to shock her. I am feeling quite fond of dear Mama and Papa, and even of Ivy May. They are simple people, unlike myself, who am rather more complicated, but at least I know that they are honest. This is not a House of Secrets. I must do something. I cannot sit by and watch the contamination at the heart of the Coleman house spread to dear Maude. So, after three weeks of soul-searching, I sat down this afternoon in my room and wrote, in a disguised hand, the following letter: Dear Mr Coleman, It is my Christian duty to inform you of Unbecoming Conduct that has taken place in your household concerning your wife. Sir, you are encouraged to ask your wife about the true nature of her illness earlier this year. I think you will be profoundly shocked. I am writing this as behoves someone concerned with the moral welfare of your daughter, Miss Maude Coleman. I have only her best interests at heart.

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