Monday, January 19, 2009

Promptly Lifted Restrictions

She lifted the time and length restrictions on this one. It was fun, too. I'm saying fun a lot today but it's true, can't leave out the truth. I'm supposed to tell a story so here's the story my brain told me to tell you:

Long ago and far away there was a girl name Becky-Ann. She danced at all the town dances, she worked in the general store and she did her washing on Saturday mornings, early so there’d be a whole day for her sheets to dry on the line. She hadn’t been born there but no one remembered when she’d arrived. It can’t have been that long ago. She was friendly and fun. Everyone knew about her Uncle Pete and the time he’d accidentally blown up his Christmas tree. Her family was up north, she visited occasionally, never staying long but coming back with more stories. Stories make you popular in a small town where all the local news makes the rounds in under an hour.

One Saturday in late August Becky-Ann’s wash didn’t show up on the line. That night at the dance her boots didn’t hit the floor. Mrs. Jenkins, the post mistress, hadn’t heard that Becky-Ann was going visiting so Mrs. Lauder sent her eldest, Jenny, to make sure things were all right.

“She’s not there.” Jenny reported.

“What do you mean she’s not there?” her mother pressed. “Did you look in the window?”

“Yes ma’am. I knocked and knocked and when she didn’t come I looked in the window and I couldn’t see her.”

“Which window?” Mrs. Jenkins urged, “The one in the front by the parlor or the one out back where you can see through the pantry into the kitchen?”

“Both, ma’am.” The girl was definite about her story but she still seemed nervous. “Mama?”

“What, child?”

“The back door was open a crack. I thought maybe I should go in so I could check upstairs but I didn’t want to trespass so…”

“Oh my lord!” gasped Mrs. Jenkins.

“Go get your father.” Mrs. Lauder ordered.

Fred Lauder took a small group of men over to Becky-Ann’s place. No one had a weapon at the dance so Slim Gorter grabbed a rake from his front yard on the way over. Someone joked him about it but they were all glad there was something to hand.

At first they all fanned out around the house looking in the windows the way Jenny had done. Finally, though, they all ended up in the same place, staring at the back door. It was ajar all right, not more than a couple of inches but enough that if Becky-Ann had been home she’d have noticed.

“Guess we better go in.” Fred said.
“Want me to go first?” Slim offered shyly.

“Best not to spook her if she’s in there.” Someone offered from the back.

“I’ll go.” Fred decided and in he went.

Becky-Ann wasn’t a neatnick or anything but she kept a nice house. There were always flowers on the table and you never came up against a dust bunny if your sewing needle rolled under her couch. The men weren’t surprised that everything was in its place. They were, in fact, a little relieved. On the other hand, though, there weren’t any flowers.

After traipsing upstairs, the world’s slowest, most boring parade, they decided an even closer look might be needed. No Becky-Ann, not in any corner of the house. No toothbrush in the bathroom, no hair brush in the bedroom and the sheets looked old. Clean, of course, but not sheets anyone would bother with if they didn’t have to.

Back downstairs the icebox was empty. The cupboards and shelves had canned goods but no fruits or vegetables. The place was like a slate wiped clean or a pair of pants hung up and waiting for someone to wake up and slide them on. Slim suggested they look for a note and they did, hunting out in the open and then in less likely places. No note appeared in the flue or behind the chair or out in the shed by her gardening tools.

It was a hard message to bring back to the dance.

“What do you mean nothing?” Mrs. Lauder asked for the 5th or 6th time.

“Not nothing exactly,” her husband replied, “Just nothing she couldn’t live without. She’s not there and I reckon she’s not coming back. Least not any time soon.”

“I don’t understand!” cried Mrs. Jenkins.

“I don’t either.” Said Fred, “but you can go by there yourselves tomorrow and then we’ll all be misunderstanding the same thing.”

By sunup on Sunday Becky-Ann’s bare feet were nearly black with dust but she didn’t care. She walked along an old dirt road with a spring in her step and a song on her lips. Her legs felt tight like she’d been dancing all night long with Slim or Jerry or even little Jenny Lauder but her heart felt loose and free.

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