The Empty Swings

I saw it blowing with the wind, like a ghostly child was pumping her tiny legs, making the swing fly haphazardly, back and forth. I could almost hear the chain creaking, the shrieking and yelling and laughter as phantom children played. The invisible whistle blew, the running and laughing kicked up, and recess was over. Suddenly it unknowingly became the last recess until August. Maybe.

Alynne and I were venturing at a mostly safe social distance in Missouri and Kansas when essentially all hell broke loose. At the beginning of our trip on March 12, some schools added a couple of weeks to Spring Break. Gatherings were encouraged to stay under 250 people. The NCAA tournament was cancelled, killing my hopes of watching Dok and the boys become National Champions. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper were gone from the shelves. Some minor inconveniences were encountered, but it wasn’t bad.

By Monday, the suggested number in gatherings dropped from 250 to 50. More schools were discussing extended breaks. Movie theaters, libraries, museums were starting to close. Restaurants and bars in NOLA were shut down. Bourbon Street was bare. Stores adjusted their hours to accommodate stocking issues. Beans, eggs, bread, and sugar were gone now too. Jon was already working from home. We were stocked fairly well. Just in case.

On Tuesday, while having a drink in a mostly empty establishment with my skeleton crew of teacher friends, we watched the governor declare Kansas schools were closed for the duration of the school year. My teacher friends were a bit dumbfounded and lots of text messages flew. One is the mama of a Senior. Prom, Graduation, Manhunt, etc. were all in jeopardy. What were they doing to do for classes? Tryouts? Auditions? Meeting the mandatory expectations? The bartender was a para, and he was worried. I understood. As a sub, I only get paid while I work. My district extended break for another week. This stuff was not a hoax. It was real and it was scary.

We shortened our trip by a day and discussed all sorts of things. Poor jack, our cute little neighbor boy was turning 10. His birthday party and adventures had to change. Alynne was (is??) supposed to go back for a wedding in April. I just read those things have been cancelled for 30 days. I assume it will have to be postponed. What about her surgery? The hospital called yesterday to get payment. Looks like that is still on. Is her summer job as a camp leader in jeopardy? They seem to be in a holding patterns. What about our friend’s wedding at the end of May? Jon and I planned an extensive road trip for that wedding. We were (are?) going to see the big kids and spend a couple of days in New Orleans. I don’t know what will happen now.

I am worried for friends living alone, those with underlying health issues, those with anxiety and depression. I am nervous for friends whose businesses are going to be wrecked or substantially hurt by all of this. Through no fault of their own, their livelihoods are in jeopardy. I fret over the young people whose job searches abruptly have become much harder and those who have already lost their incomes. I want to see my son.

I’m angry that people aren’t being tested as they need to be. I’m pissed off that people are being so selfish at the stores and are buying 17, 000 bottles of hand sanitizer and 200 cases of toilet paper or diapers or baby formula. My heart breaks for people in isolation away from loved ones. Sick and lonely and needing their families. I’m irritated that our health care workers don’t have what they need and have cried for help for weeks. I wish the people at the top would reassure us that yes, this sucks, but we will be ok. I wish it hadn’t turned into a political mess. People are scared and looking for comfort. I wish…

My heart smiles at stories of young people offering to make grocery runs for their neighbors, offering to share toilet paper and bread. I laughed at the story I read of the little boy telling his neighbor Jean to go inside. She is almost 70, after all. I’m encouraged that local places are still serving for carry out and delivery. Buy from those people! The impromptu neighborhood parties, with neighbors in driveways and on the curbs, give me hope. The way teachers are pulling together and helping each other out to make mobile learning less horrifying doesn’t surprise me, but it shows me how dedicated they are despite the negativity they are already facing. I joined a book club, and we are reading questionably written novels. I love it! Hope rises as I listen to the people in Italy sing with their neighbors. Or Bostonians singing “Sweet Caroline” with strangers on the streets.

I’m not going to preach or be political. Our normal distractions are gone. This is a time for us to reflect, to look at ourselves. It’s a time to learn a new hobby. Read a book. Watch a documentary or a cartoon. It is a time to write letters, and journals, and blog posts. Maybe it’s time to work on your novel. It is the time to order some really good coffee. Support local artisans and business. It is time to love people better. It is time to pray. To be grateful. To be kinder than you want to be. It is time to thank the girl at the grocery store or the boy who brings your bag curbside. It is time to be better.

Ghosts 7

As I helped Papa search, I still had no idea what we were looking for. Assuming it was fairly small since I was digging in tight spots and baskets, I asked him again what had been lost. I received a mumbled, harried response. Papa was more distracted than usual. He was distraught about the missing item.

I saw Mrs. Amberly appear in the doorway, arms crossed, a sour look on her face. That was nothing new, she always looked cruel and hateful.  “Sir,” she said tartly.  “Sir, you have clients.  They are looking for you.  What should I tell them?”

“Amelie, keep looking!” Papa ordered as he scurried out of the storeroom.  Mrs. Amberly looked irritated as she turned and walked after my father.

Resisting thenurge to stick out my tongue, I gathered myself and told Papa I would keep going.  Having no idea what the search would reveal, I knew the mess that had been made would give up no secrets.  I started to set the storeroom right again and put things away. Thankfully nothing was broken. A few papers were wrinkled and edges were bent.  I placed books in stacks on the shelves, organized the ledgers, replaced lids on barrels, and wiped down dust that had been stirred.  I peeked in corners, under tarps and canvas covers. I looked in large cartons and trunks. I saw nothing extraordinary until I reached behind an old trunk that had probably not been moved in decades. I felt wood and leather.  I couldn’t quite reach it, and I briefly thought about how dirty and smudged my skirts would get if I crawled back there. I decided not to risk more disapproval and dusted myself off.  I headed into the shop to find Papa.

He was helping a young woman and her maid when I approached, clearing my throat.  I politely told him I might have found what he had been looking for, describing what I had felt.  His eyes lit up, and he excused himself from the customers.  He told them that I would be happy to help them find whatever they might need.  He rushed off to the storeroom. Mrs. Amberly glared with disgust as she saw my dusty skirt and a cobweb I tried to brush out of my hair. I winked at her and tuned on my heels.

“How may I help you today, Miss Landry?” I asked, grabbing a notepad and pencil.  Miss Landry started wandering through the aisles, listing things to pull, and my mind wandered to the young girl with her.  She couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 years old. She looked very shy, passive, incredibly uncomfortable.  I supposed that she was a daughter of the house, the result of a clandestine  dalliance with a maid or a cook. Her features resembled that of Miss Landry.  The tilt of the head, shape of the nose, even the strange shade of hazel eyes. They were golden brown with a very bright green circle right around the pupil. Nobody said anything about the obvious.  The girl differed from Miss Landry in one significant way.  Her skin was a beautiful shade of cafe au-lait. Such things were not uncommon in our city, an unspoken and well-known secret in many of the fine families. 

As Miss Landry went to look at some fabrics, I watched the girl.  Her name was Henriette, I learned as Miss Landry demanded that she stay right where she was.  She was fidgeting and couldn’t stop looking around the shop.  I don’t know if she was hoping to see someone, or if she had never been out in the Quarter during the day.

As I was about to ask Henriette if she would like a cookie, Papa came tearing back into the main shop.  “Thank you, darling Amelie! It must have fallen off the shelf.  You saved me'” he shouted, coming to hug me.  “Mrs. Amberly! I believe the back room could use your attention. Miss Landry!  Henriette! I apologize for my abrupt departure a moment ago.  I hope Amelie was helpful. Henriette, would you like a cookie? Amelie, please get these young ladies a bit of refreshment.  Miss Landry, shall we continue? “

And with that, Mrs. Amberly left her counter with surprise and frustration, mumbling as she went.  I heard her skirt swishing in anger as she stomped her feet. I secretly wished I hadn’t straightened the shelves.  Henriette gently pulled my skirts and looked up at me with some anticipation.

“Miss, would you like to join me?” I asked the young girl and extended my hand.  She took it shyly and smiled at me.  We went to Papa’s office and found the treats Mama had made for special customers. 

“Miss Amelie, nobody ever talked to me like your daddy did.  Does he know I’m just a maid, not a lady?  He shouldn’t do that.” Henriette’s voice was quiet but strong. 

I looked at her, surprised by her boldness.  “Papa saw two young women in need of some refreshment on this hot afternoon. He knows his customers very well, Miss Henriette, ” I replied. She had a point.  Most servants were not acknowledged by shop owners unless they were on a specific errand.  I smiled at her. “I hope Papa was not too forward today.  You won’t be in trouble, will you?”

Papa, while living in society, rarely paid attention to society rules and protocol. Sometimes, society did not like his dismissal of what they held dear.  I hoped this young girl would punished for my father’s flippant behavior.

It is invisible but it sucks

My daughter lives with a laundry list of medical ish. Any one thing is frustrating, but in typical Alynne fashion, she doesn’t just have one thing. She has multiple things that are rarely seen but that cause her constant pain or anxiety or frustration or all of the above. Sometimes we get to forget for just a minute that she doesn’t get to have a “normal” existence, but it is only for a minute.

Alynne has asthma, seasonal nasal allergies, a latex allergy, and is prone to staph infections. She is allergic to our fat white cat, down blankets, the antibiotic stuff they started putting on bandaids a couple of years ago. She can’t eat bananas, kiwi, avocados or passion fruit due to her latex allergy. Those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. Her knees and feet resemble those of old ladies. Bursitis and bunions are part of her daily life. She’s got tendonitis in several places as well. And we can’t forget that her pelvis and hips are tilted funny and not even.

My girl wears a medical alert bracelet and carries epi-pens, an inhaler, advil, and benadryl with her all the time. She makes sure the people she is with most know what to look for during an anaphylactic reaction and can actually use her epi-pens. Some eyes light up at the thought of stabbing her with something sharp, but they know it could save her life. You never know when you might need them. She’s had her own med kit since she was 12 and keeps latex free bandaids with her all the time.

Things like parties and festivals are not always joyous occasions for Alynne. They can be a death trap for my daughter. Have you ever been somewhere with so many balloons you can smell the latex? Yeah, not good for Alynne. She couldn’t even totally enjoy her Junior Prom after party because of all of the balloons. She lurked in back hallways and corners of the cafeteria.

All of these things are mostly invisible. You don’t know just by looking at her that these things are going on. She grouses a bit to those closest to her politely explains that she can’t eat a banana if it is offered by those who don’t know. “Thank you, but guacamole could killed me.” Her bandages look like all the rest.

Recently, I realized how exhausting this is for my girl. After developing a bubble of staph, she treated it like she usually does. It started to heal, and she had a reaction to the bandages that were supposedly latex free. Guess what! Not latex free. Her leg swelled up with angry itchy blisters. It hurt and looked absolutely awful. I was 1000 miles away and couldn’t help or hold her. Her daddy was a trooper, going all over Tucson looking for bandages and medicine that would cure and not exacerbate.

Last night, after a new outbreak, she broke down. She’s tired of always having to think about what she wears, touches, eats, etc. She just wants to be normal. She wants to grab a bandage out of the box and not worry about a reaction. She would like to have a smoothie without having to special order. She would love to order Chipotle without having to ask the people at assembly to change their gloves so she doesn’t get guacamole cross-contamination. She’d like to buy fun socks without having to have someone pick them up to look at the ingredient list. She would love to exercise and run without her feet or hips or knees or back screaming in pain. She’d like to snuggle her fat cat without her face swelling up. She’d like to have one carefree day where she doesn’t hurt or can breathe freely. A day where she can be a normal 19 year old girl and not worry.

She has one hot mess friend who can relate to a point. Maggs is a Type 1 diabetic. She too carries an invisible condition that you can’t see until she whips out her insulin at lunch. The girls understand each other. And it sucks that these two beautiful 19 year old women will never know a normal day.

Their normal is different, not simple or easy. It is exhausting and can be so frustrating. It hurts and wears you out mentally. It it is their normal. People don’t understand because they can’t see it. They can be rude and insensitive because they just don’t always grasp what they can’t see. It isn’t really their fault, but there has to be constant education. I can’t fix it for either of them.

My sweet Alynne, your bravery every single day blows me away. You are stoic and strong. You rarely complain about the hand you’ve been dealt. You live it the best you can. Just know that you have people who love you dearly. And don’t forget that it is ok to just sit and cry for a bit and mourn what is “normal” occasionally. Then wipe your nose, wash your hands face because your fat white cat tried to love you, put on your medihoney, gauze pad and latex free ace wrap, and pop that benadryl.

Ghosts part 6

He just looked at me when I had finished talking. No readable expression was on his face. His eyes danced a little, but that was Dunk. Mischief always played in his eyes. I waited on edge for him to respond. I didn’t know what to expect, but I needed him to react. Laughter, a head shake, something. Anything.

“Well?” I asked him. “What have you got?”

“Girl, you know I love a good spook, but are you sure you aren’t just tired or overheated?” He reached out and took my hand. His expression changed. “Min, I believe you saw something. You are too shaken to just be messing with me. Describe this girl to me. How tall? How old? Eyes? You are sure they are blue? Freckles on her face? Close your eyes and describe her in detail.”

I took a breath and closed my eyes. “The girl I saw in the cemetery was a little taller than me and thin. And before you shoot smart, I know everyone is taller than me,” I responded. I peeked at my friend and saw him giggling. It was a running joke. He was very tall and thin. I was not. I closed my eyes again and continued.

“She wore an old fashioned dress, blue with some flowers. It hung at least to her ankles. I didn’t see her feet, but I assume she was wearing boots. I don’t know why. She had dark hair, not black, but there was some red tint to it. I think her eyes were a dark blue color. She had freckles across her nose, and her skin was very pale. And she brings lilacs.”

Dunk was thinking out loud now. “How close was she? Did you guess her eyes were blue, or did you see them? How old again? I don’t think you told me. Was she in her teens or twenties? Hat? Did that girl have a hat?”

“Slow down! ” I yelled. The tourists looked over at us. Dunk winked and waved. I laughed. He was insufferable with guests. Except the little ole ladies who came in, flirty and feisty. I think they scared him.

“I would say she was in her late teens or early twenties. She seemed young. I don’t remember a hat. Honestly, I couldn’t have been close enough to see her eyes. I’m certain they were blue. I know they were blue.” I paused, sipping lemonade. “But the lilacs, Dunk.”

He leaned across the table and gave me a hug. Lilacs were rough for me. Years before, I had a lilac bush blooming outside my bedroom window. I had the window open one warm spring night and could smell the new blooms. As I was crawling into bed, the phone rang. It was my daddy . Mama had been killed in a car crash. The scent of those beautiful, purple blooms immediately became mixed forever with the color red, the smell of blood, and my agony. Dunk knew. He understood.

“It’s ok, Min. The ghost doesn’t know your pain. She doesn’t mean to harm. At least I doubt it. She sounds cute.” He shrugged his shoulders, cleaned off the table, and went back to work. Only Duncan would decide the ghost was cute. If she was a ghost. I sat for a little while longer, processing, when a waiter came out with a cafe au lait and order of beignets to go. He smiled and darted back into the cafe.

I had been gone too long and headed back across the street. The bell gently rang as I walked in the door. Luke and a girl I didn’t recognize were deep in conversation over the jewelry counter. She looked up. Brunette, dark eyes, and an apologetic grin. She went back to Luke and he laughed. J saw Addie in my office, patted Luke on the shoulder, and went to meet my favorite appraiser.

“Where did you get these lovelies?” Addie screeched as I walked into the office. “Almost all of them are real and if not completely authentic, there are good stones in each piece. It is a really weird mix of costume and legit gems. It’s like someone didn’t want to make every stone if one piece was lost. Any idea whose box it is? Was? Whatever! Somebody was stupid rich!”

Ghosts Part 5

After pulling out, examining, sketching, photographing, and cataloging the first few pieces, I stood to stretch. The little box and its contents were worth a fortune at first glance. I would need to have my friend, Addie, check the gemstones for authenticity and value. She would be coming by later this afternoon to appraise some pieces we were considering acquiring. I couldn’t wait for her to see these bits of jewelry. The workmanship was extensive and detailed. She would love getting her hands on these examples of history.

I knew some of the pieces were paste and glass, but they were in remarkable shape. Some of the larger stones had inclusions that would be difficult to replicate with today’s technology and nearly impossible 150 years ago. With no labs and electricity, I didn’t think it was something that could be done well so I assumed the stones were valuable.

I sat back down, put on my gloves, and took a brooch between my fingers. It was a golden color, soft metal, tarnished with time, and sprinkled with gemstones of deep hues. In the center, there seemed to be a small photo, maybe done in memorial, behind a thin piece of scratched and dirty glass. I gently wiped the grime covering the picture with my white gloved fingers. A face was scarcely visible through the scratches. I dropped the brooch. The face I saw, the freckles and the eyes, belonged to the young woman I had encountered this morning. I inhaled deeply, searching for a good breath, and caught the very faint scent of lilacs. She was here!

The air in my office was suddenly heavy, and I stepped into the main shop with shaky legs. I wandered a little to regain my composure, smiling at customers, straightening items on display, looking for Luke. Catching his eye, I went behind the counter. He politely excused himself from the couple he was helping.

“Boss?” he asked, “What’s up?”

I told him I needed to step out for a few minutes and asked if he wanted me to get him some lunch while I was gone.

He laughed and flipped his hair back. “Ummm, it’s past three. I ate a couple of hours ago. Maybe you really do need a break. I can cover here for awhile. Isn’t Addie supposed to show up soon? I can let her into your office.”

I had been lost in my thoughts and that box for over four hours. It was a good thing Luke could run the shop, or I could have been robbed blind. I was shaken.

“Do you need me to bring you a mid-afternoon snack then?” I asked, following his eyes to a bag with his name and a heart drawn on it.

“Uh, nope. I’m good,” he answered with his grin telling me all I needed to know. The artwork most likely was a result of last night’s escapades. I was going to guess brunette with dark eyes and a shy smile. I’d ask questions later. I told Luke I would text Addie and walked out into a bright New Orleans afternoon.

I crossed the street to a busy cafe. Tourists couldn’t resist a good beignet no matter what time of day. As I crossed the threshold, Dunk saw me and smiled.

“You want your usual, Minute? Why are you so late today?” he asked with his normal nosiness.

Dunk and I grew up together. We were inseparable as children and couldn’t get out of each other’s way as adults. Anytime he asked me a question, which seemed to be all the time as I recall, I answered him, “In a minute, Duncan!” And with that, he has never called me anything but Minute.

“I got some new pieces from a reno on the Quarter and lost track of time.” I paid for my usual of chicken salad on a croissant, fruit, a pastry, and lemonade. I told Dunk I was headed to the courtyard.

Dunk brought my lunch out to the table, shooed away a bird, and sat down. “Ok, Min,” he blurted, “what’s wrong? You look weirder than usual.”

“Thanks, old friend, and you look like a scarecrow, but whatever,” I replied. Dunk grinned.

“Seriously, are you ok? You look kind of pale and very much not yourself. Take a bite of your sandwich and tell me all about it.”

I wasn’t sure I could tell my oldest friend all about it. I didn’t understand it myself. Dunk was always up for a good horror flick, spooky story, ghost hunt, or anything spine tingling. He would at least listen well, reserving most judgement. I hoped. I had nothing to lose so I told him about the girl, the lilac, the chills, and the picture.

Ghosts Part 4

“Amelie! Where have you been?” Papa yelled from his office. He was quite excited and seemed very distracted. The store room was a wreck. Things were strewn all over. Barrels were open, and Papa didn’t even seem to notice. He was mumbling and pulling things off the shelves. Thankfully he didn’t notice my disheveled appearance, and I tucked my hair back into the ribbon I had used to hold it back.

“Papa! Slow down! What has happened here?” I asked, patting his sweet head as I took him into a fierce hug. I had no idea if the mess had been made by Papa or burglars or haunts or Mrs. Amberly.

If Mrs. Amberly hadn’t done this, why wasn’t she helping Papa clean up? That woman was horrid. I never trusted that her. Mama dismissed her. Papa tolerated her. I don’t know why Papa kept her around. She was a mean gossip, and her reputation was quite suspect. Maybe she knew something she shouldn’t. Maybe Papa felt sorry for her. Mr. Amberly, so went the neighborhood courtyard stories, was murdered under suspicious circumstances. Nobody knew the true story, or at least was willing to admit it. What was known is that the murder was brutal. He was rumored to have snitched on some unsavory characters down on the docks. Others swore he was stepping out with the wife and the mistress of a well-connected councilman. Mr. Amberly was slimy. It could have been all of it.

Waiting for Papa to calm down a bit, I surveyed the back room. Books were open on shelves and barrels. Bags were thrown about and no longer stacked. Had he lost something in the storeroom? He was still muttering under his breath about it not being here when I turned his face to mine.

“Papa, explain what happened. Who did this? What is missing?” I knew he kept valuable pieces hidden in the shop. He never told me what they were or where he hid them. I assumed it was one of these things he couldn’t find.

After settling down some, Papa finally answered me. “I just can’t find it, dear. I have looked all over this place. Someone took it.” He spoke slowly and added, “Where have you been? Breakfast with your young man?” His eyes shone with mischief, forgetting his quest for a moment.

“Papa, you know there is no young man.” He shook his head sadly. The fact that I had no prospect might have frustrated my father more than his missing object. I was 21 years old, a spinster I suppose. I had no beau, and that was quite fine with me. Papa and Mama worried. Papa wanted me to be cared for and loved like he did for Mama. I did not think it important. But the sadness on his face pained me.

Changing the subject, I asked what was missing and how I could help. He was distracted again, piddling with items on a shelf. Talking to himself, moving some things, shaking others. Whatever was no longer in its place had to be small. I started to look for anything out of the ordinary. I certainly knew how the storeroom had been organized. I had done it myself. I thought I knew what was in there, but Papa insisted something of importance was missing.

Ghosts part 3

“Boss, you look like you’ve seen a ghost! Drink some of this coffee and sit down.” Luke mothered me for a minute. I don’t know if the look on his face meant he saw her or if he was worried about me. I took the paper cup and found a sturdy chair. I felt the chill subside, but the scent lingered. I asked Luke if he had noticed anything more abnormal than usual. It was New Orleans after all.

His hair fell over his eyes as he looked at me, the concern evident on his face. “Since I work in a place where we chat with a dead guy every day, how strange are you talking?”

“I saw something, or someone, “I said. “I also smelled lilacs.”

“Miss Maggie came in a bit ago with sweet tea and lemonade. She wears that flowery perfume, but I don’t think it is lilacs,” Luke thought for a moment. Miss Maggie is a dear woman from the neighborhood who worked in the shop for years before retiring for the third or fourth time. She still stops in to help when she gets bored being the social butterfly of the Quarter. It wasn’t Miss Maggie that I saw.

“Someone slipped in right before you came out of your office. I was with a guest so I didn’t notice who it was. I should probably go check on him. You ok?” he asked with sincerity and a bit of ‘my boss has lost her mind.’ He patted my shoulder and went back to the floor.

It wasn’t a man I saw. It was the girl from this morning. At least I think that’s who it was. I drank some more cafe-au-lait and wandered around my antiques to clear my head. I no longer smelled lilacs. The scent of the polish we used on the wood now filled that space. Light danced all around the interior. Shadows were cast, moving, swaying. I shook my head. Maybe I was still off balance from the heat and the odor of decay from my walk to work.

I returned to my office, determined to finish exploring and cataloging the box and its contents. The sketches and photos showed the owner was someone with significant wealth and affinity for details. As I leafed through the pictures, I was awed by the bright green, slightly flawed emeralds settled among tiny pearls. Brilliant blue sapphires and diamonds were wating for me. I checked on Luke one more time before I started. I heard giggling and saw him flirting with a young woman and her mama. He was in his element, so I closed the door and put on my gloves. Music playing softly in the background allowed me to be transpsorted to am era of fancy balls and carriages. I became so focused on the boxand the jewelry, I lost track of time.

As I walked through the streets of the Vieux Carre, I stopped for a moment and closed my eyes. I listened to the sounds of a busy morning all around me. Children were running and playing. Their laughter and screeches bounced off the walls of the courtyards and homes. A woman hummed in the distance as she snapped sheets to hang on the line. Horoses clopped along the streets, their heavy breathing a representation of frustration from pulling the heavy cart on such a hot day. Men spoke in hushed voices as deals were being finalized. Store owners yelled orders out to their workers.

I took a deep breath and smelled the hot, heavy summer air. Unwashed humans, horses, expensive perfume and cheap cologne, decay, and the hope of rain filled my nostrils. Breakfast cooking clashed with the filth in the gutters. I could smell the river a few blocks away, laden with fish and smoke from. the ships. Papa was waiting and would be angry by my tardiness. I was taking too long. Again. I shook myself back to the task at hand and continued to the shop on Royal. Work would wait for me, but Papa wouldn’t.

I ran the final blocks to Royal. My hair was a mess. The hem of my skirt was dusty. My hat was missing. I prepared myself for the inevitable encounter with Mrs. Amberly, Papa’s store clerk. She would remind me, unkindly, of the expectations of a young lady in society. She would chastise my freckles and lack of a hat. She would mutter under her breath the disappointment she had that Mama and Papa let me run so wild. How a week with her would make me behave appropriately.

I gathered my hair and retied my ribbon at the base of my neck. I knocked the dust off my skirt and shoes, straightened my blouse, and pulled open the heavy door. I headed straight for the office, with only a nod to Mrs. Amberly and her shocked exprssion. She shook her head as I walked past, whispering, “Back to work, you nosy, old, busy-body.”