Annabell stepped through the glass and wood enclosure. It was the kind where the glass had little moldings with wrought iron, and different edging in the glass; where if she stood close enough, she could see something behind her, times three– never knowing if what she was seeing was actually what she was seeing. In that instance, she transported herself as a sleuth of the highest degree, and flashed to her 8-year-old-self, whom she so desperately wished to forget. Curiosity sometimes did kill the cat. In Annabell’s case, she didn’t care much for cats. She was more of a dog person.
Curiosity and love getting the better of her, Annabell decided to venture out into the night air. There is always that moment, where one thinks the outside will be better than the inside, but as Annabell opened the door, the ‘in’ seemed better than the ‘out.’ It was stale. But there were fireflies– enough of a lamp unto her feet, to give her the bravery and courage she needed to slosh through the swampy grass holding in the day’s tears.
Slish. Slosh. Slish. Slosh.
Annabell gave a moment of thought to the edge of her silver brocade. She picked it up enough to spare it from the grass, and gave into the fact that Nessie would be discarding her dancing shoes (which never made it to dancing on this evening’s summer affair). Her steps had stopped. She looked up at the half-baked moon, standing within arm’s reach, just behind her father.
She could hear him breathing. He had developed a slight wheeze from the extra loving of the good southern-comfort food and drink. She could see the salt and pepper from his hair, and even a few flakes from the fine meal that had made it into the sides of his beard. He was distinguished… yet not. If one could define ‘distinguished,’ maybe they would have said ‘Walter Mason’ at one point or another. The verdict was out. He was holding on to what he could.
“Speak, girl,” Walter said quietly.
“Daddy. I didn’t mean to offend. Honestly. I was just so looking forward to this evening, and had so-ever-carefully and thoughtfully, put pen to paper the innermost thoughts of being welcomed into the summer society, that I was just…. I was disappointed. And thrown. I haven’t had much practice in being lithe on my feet. But I’ll be better. I’ll be better.”
“I just don’t know your family all that well. It wasn’t personal– please don’t take my…”
Walter raised his hand ever-so-slightly, which silenced Annabell, thought and word.
The pause almost unbearable between them.
“I’m not well,” Walter uttered faintly.
“Want me to get Nessie to bring you some warm milk? Maybe you should go to bed.”
“No. Annabell. I’m not well,” he gruffed.
Annabell didn’t know what to make of this confession. She knew that her father was getting older– that, she had noticed. But she thought it may have been the drink, or the age, or the unhappiness. If maybe she could ignore it a little longer, and proudly not say anything about it, or neglect it whole-heartedly for a few more days at least… it would all go away. Disappear. Just like the coyotes. Here for a moment, terror for a moment…. Then gone, with a good dragging and cleaning, as quickly as they had come– only chosen to be remembered in the minds of those who chose to remember (or lived in fear).
“Daddy, should we… should we call a doctor?” the eight-year-old in Annabell uttered.
“I’ve already seen a doctor– you’re mother doesn’t know. I saw a doctor in the city, before we came. He did some tests. And…. I’m not well.”
“What did he say?” Annabell was on the verge of tears. The unknown too great to grasp.
“He said there is something wrong with my mind. I can’t remember where I’ve put things. I remember a whole life– and a whole life before that. But what I had for breakfast, or where I’ve put my glasses or my glass… it disappears.”
“Well then, what’s my excuse?” Annabell tried to make light.
“This isn’t a time for humor, girl.” Walter did not oblige. “Don’t tell your mother– or Junior. You’re my favorite. All of this could be yours, Annabell. I need you to find a husband. This summer. I need you to choose wisely. Because whomever you choose will inherit all of this, and I’ll be damned if you turn it to the wind. You understand me? I won’t be able to take care of you much longer in presence, but I’ll be damned if I leave you to dry in legacy. Your mother wouldn’t be able to handle this. And Junior is too young. As you can see, all of my family are too greedy or nit-witty, and I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them. They’d devour me whole and alive. I’m going to leave it all to you Annabell.”
“Daddy, why must you talk this way? You’ll get better. I’ll help you. We’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Annabell, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to remember who I am or who you are… so you must promise me. Find a husband. This summer. Someone I approve of… before it’s too late.”
They stayed out in the yard.
Little did they know a certain New Yorker, with all the right proportions of body and wit, was taking note from inside. Eve was not just dressed in emerald green because it was her best color to bring out the fire in her hair (or her eyes); Eve was green on the inside. Green with jealousy for what Annabell had. A father. Something Eve did not have…. Thanks to Annabell Jones Mason.
Thank goodness for spirits.
As quickly as it came, everyone had forgotten about the little happenstance over the speech and the food. The tables, chairs and any large item meant for comfort had been cleared from the main floor. Nessie had manned the Victrola over in the corner, and swiped the white-as-white-can-be selection for some new and improved Josephine Baker, “Then I’ll Be Happy.” Normally there might have been a comment or two about the “colored” nature of the piece, but when people are three sheets to the wind, a little Josephine Baker would be exactly what they might-would need.
A rousing Charleston was started by Eve. Joe had been allowed to stay, and everyone had made amends for the evening. They would think about their distaste for one another (speaking with the utmost kindness and utter displeasure within the same breath), tomorrow. Gossip was a Jones family specialty. They thrived on gossip– using it to build them into the family they were (and they also fell by it)…. Making them the family they would become.
Annabell stood closer to the door from whence she came. She turned over her shoulder. Her father was no longer sitting in the rocking chair. Where did he go? Just then Annabell was pulled to the middle of the floor. It was Joe– still sweaty, with the sting of alcohol seeping from his pores and gullet.
“Gollee, Miss Annabell, lady. I didn’t mean no harm coming in on your speechy-y.” Joe twirled her, against her will, to the middle of the floor. “Let me make it up to you by giving you a dance.”
“Oh, Joe. That’s alright. I apologize for my momentary flaring of the tempers. I’m not much for the Charleston.”
“No one’s ever not up for the Charleston, Miss Annabell! You just stand there and look purdy, and I’ll do all the work.”
And that’s what he did. Was it a dance or a ride at the fair? Annabell and her queasy stomach were not sure of which. But his perseverance and his unbridled, unashamed air to “be okay with looking like a galumph” did amuse her so… and got her moving. Her “doth protesting too much” turned to a glimmer of joy when he showed her how to move her knees back and forth– touching them with her hands so as to look as though the knee caps were being taken in the ol’ switcheroo. Joe pointed his finger up in the air –back and forth, back and forth–, as if to tell the heavens, “Don’t you rain on my parade,” as he hopped on one leg a little then switched to the other. He sidled back and forth –from right to left, and left to right–, as ungracefully as could be, with not a care in the world.
Eve was on the dance floor as well, with a new partner. It was hard not to watch her, even with her less-than dance accomplice– a neighbor from down the street who didn’t need to drive home, so he drank the most; this neighbor went by the name of Callahan Deville. Callahan’s wife, Abolene, sat in a chair, going in and out of the “too-much-delicious-food-and-drink” and a “mite-too-late” state, snoring in and out of a drunken slumber– only opening her eyes at the tap of a tympani within those roaring recordings. While his barren wife enjoyed her own company, Callahan enjoyed the company of Eve’s upper and lower rounder parts, leading him aside and astray as he tried to keep up. Honored with her company for the moment, he tried not to let his thoughts wander up the staircase to the bedroom, where he most certainly would not end up with Eve; but every bounce and curve gave him a new fantasy to take home and live off, as he droned on in his boring, Southern, wealthy life he had made for himself and Abolene. But their story is for another day. Eve was smart as a whip underneath those curves and too-many-words. She made herself look grand by partnering with those of the lesser variety.
Annabell desperately tried to keep up on her side of the dance circle. She took a step and kicked her leg in the classic Charleston way, kicking higher than expected. (Being slight-of-frame made her a bit more limber. Less stuff in the way.) She surprised herself and the others. That went well, Annabell thought to herself. She stepped her other foot back and tapped the floor with the ball of her shoe, still slightly damp from the traipse outside; then, with more confidence, she stepped and kicked again, even a little higher this time. She was getting the hang of it, and everyone was starting to give her the attention she so desperately wanted but refused to admit to her soul.
Eve joined in on the fun. Just as Annabell had given that rousing kick, Eve stepped in and gave an impressive kick that was just about on-par with Annabell’s more gangly expression; everyone turned their attention to Eve once again. Annabell, not one to shy away from a little healthy competition, gave one more Charleston kick to grow on– this one was the highest and most impressive by far. Her leg seemed to have detached from the joint of her hip. As the triumph of all the “attention for good” had befallen upon her, the mud from outdoors and the brocade and lace became one tangled slippery mess; Annabell fell backward straight onto her head, shoulder and the back corner of her lungs. A backwards cannonball on the ever-so-dense late 1800s-ish marble floor.
Everyone gasped in horror, interweaving with Eve’s delight. The Victrola screeched to a halt. All gathered around Miss Annabell Jones to see if she was… alive. “Are you okay?” “Miss Annabell, speak!” “Heavens, Joe, you’ve gone and killed her!” Collective gasps were all around. The entire party had turned their attention from Eve (and her dancing, matched with Annabell’s high kicks), to just plain Annabell (and to her slipping, sliding and tragedy). It was becoming a pattern. Eve stamped her foot a little against the floor. “Mmmmph!” you could almost hear her say. This was going to be a little harder than she thought. Waif-of-a-girls have different powers than those lasses with more love to give.
Eve was going to have get smart. Not just loud. Annabell did not realize what kind of redhead she was dealing with– and Annabell didn’t realize she was dealing with one. But Eve was going to give it to her. Covering it all up in sugar and spice…. And blood.