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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
“Cherish Rise, Vermont”
by Jeannette Harris
It was difficult to tell Audrey from anyone else. She wore drab clothes and allowed her hair to hang freely in disinterested curls. Her shoes were a practical low-heeled brown or black. She wore no makeup except occasionally some light lipstick for her chapped lips. In wintertime, she wore a dark green woolen coat. In summer, she wore light-colored dresses and slip-on pumps. When she spoke, her voice was low and polite. Her job did not require her to speak to strangers except on very rare occasions. Mostly, she spoke to Mrs. Petersen, her boss, and Janice, her co-worker in the bookstore. The bookstore itself was an old and quiet place, frequented mostly by folks who had lived in Dolsontown for years. It had an ambiance of must and dust. Unlike the newer stores, it didn't serve coffee or donuts to its customers and most of the books carried there were used. Their covers might be leather, their pages yellowed. Some were un-cut. It was a place to hunt for a rare book, perhaps even one signed by the author years ago.
"Hello, Audie," Sadie Petersen called. Her boss was the cheery sort. "You're early, as usual. Would you like a cup of coffee?" She always asked that and Audrey always said, yes. Mrs. Petersen kept a pot for herself and her employees in her office, along with creamer and sugar. Some mornings, she brought donuts in for them and for herself.
"I'd love some," Audie answered, taking off her green wool coat and hanging it over a chair in Sadie's office.
"How are you this morning? Did you have a hot date last night?" Mrs. Petersen enjoyed teasing Audie, secretly hoping that one day Audrey really would have a hot date and come out of her shell, so to speak.
Audie looked embarassed and coughed behind her fist. "No, of course not," she muttered, reaching for a mug and pouring coffee into it carefully.
"It wouldn't hurt you, you know," Mrs. Petersen encouraged her. "A girl your age should get out more in the world." Sadie held her middle-aged body straight in the chair. She wore bright makeup to accentuate her auburn-colored hair. Her suit was navy silk and her shoes matched it. Her skin was pale.
"I go out with Janice sometimes. That suits me fine," Audie answered defiantly. She resented intrusions into her private life and discouraged them as well as she was able.
"Where do you and she go?" Sadie asked, making small talk until the shop opened in five minutes or so. Mrs. Petersen enjoyed talking. It made her shop popular with customers. She would go over books, talk about authors and literature, discuss the neighbors and what was going on with the stores on her block, the newest movies, or what latest outrage the mayor's office had caused.
"We go to Oagley's for lunch, you know. And sometimes we go to the movies and Winston's Steak House afterwards," Audrey said finally, sipping her coffee and nibbling on a jelly donut she'd just picked up.
Mrs. Petersen reached down with her free left hand. "I have something special for you today," Sadie said mysteriously.
"What? Why today?" Audie asked, curiously.
"Ah," Sadie said. "Did you forget it was your birthday?"
Audrey blushed. "I didn't know you knew. Or would remember," she amended.
Sadie pulled out an unwrapped package from underneath her desk. "Here you go. See what you think."
Audrey pulled the box open and found a pale pink sweater with pearls and a bright pink skirt to match. "It's lovely," she breathed. "Thank you very much." Audie felt dazzled by an outfit so different from what she usually wore or would choose for herself. She wondered if she'd ever really have the nerve to wear it anywhere.
"It would be a nice thing to wear on a date, I thought," Sadie said, pointedly.
"Who would I date?" Audrey asked in despair. "I don't really know any men anywhere."
"You need to join a book club or something, some place where you'll meet men with interests similar to yours."
Audrey contemplated sitting in a roomful of strangers and abandoned the idea immediately.
Sadie sensed what she thought kept Audrey at home nights. "You could ask Janice to go with you," she suggested, helpfully.
"Well, maybe I will," Audrey answered, doubtfully.
"Time to open up," Mrs. Petersen announced. "Will you unlock the door please." Sadie was stickler for details. Her books were arranged alphabetically within their categories and the shop opened promptly at nine o'clock and closed promptly at 8 p.m. To make up for the ten hour days, Sadie's New and Used Books stayed closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Audie and Jan enjoyed the three days off in a row. Sometimes they had even gone out of town, rented rooms and splurged on hot tubs in the forest and fancy restaurants in Morriston or Greenway way up in the mountains. The drive itself revived their spirits and the retreat gave them strength for another month or so.
Audrey disappeared out of the office, as Sadie sighed. She worried about Audrey, her quietness, the way she had withdrawn from the world since Kevin had died. It had been over two years. It was time for Audie to reenter the world of adults that date and mate and fight and make up and build and tear down and live and get sick and get healthy and die. Audrey, instead, had built a world for herself made solely of the characters in books. With the exception of Janice, she saw no one and she wasn't personally close to Janice either. Janice, of course, had her own life with two children to raise by herself and Janice did date. Sadie resolved to push Audie further back into the land of the living each day, however she might be able to do that. It's one step at a time, she reminded herself, as they say.
"Audrey," she called out the next morning, "did you try on the outfit I gave you? Does it fit?"
Audie answered affirmatively. "Yes, it fits perfectly. And it looks very nice. I'm saving it for a special occasion," she added. Audrey couldn't really imagine where she would wear such a bright and outstanding style. It didn't suit her, she thought. It didn't suit her personality or her mood, which was retiring and somewhat drab.
Mrs. Petersen was insistent that Audrey socialize. "I may have a special one for you then," Sadie announced. "I'm having a little get-together at my house, just some friends, for coffee and finger foods and desserts and chitchat and we'll watch a movie. It's to be this Friday evening. What do you say?" she asked determinedly.
"Oh, no," Audrey said quickly. "I can't."
"Of course you can," Sadie said abruptly. "You need to get out and this is a perfect opportunity to meet some other people." She nearly lost her patience with Audie and bit her lip.
"You're inviting someone for me, aren't you?" Audie asked accusingly.
Mrs. Petersen had her mind set now on what was best for her employee. "Well, I might invite several someones that might be right for you," she said, coming out of her office with a wink.
Audrey hid in the stacks all day. Sadie's New and Used Books had rows and rows on two floors. It was possible for Audie to disappear, even from Janice.
never the same
better than myrrrh,
softer than fur,
the blur of you
meanders through my mind
by my soul,
the whole we are
the parts we play
to stay and start
keeping our beat
in the love game
Lila saw Manny in her mind’s eye striding over a freshly-bushwhacked field now overgrown with evergreen starts for the infancy of their tree farm. Over generations the land and its waters had nourished a healthy succession of corn, wheat, cattle, hogs and chickens, other domestic fowl and migrating birds. ‘And weeds, bugs and other unwelcome varmits,’ reality begged her to recollect honestly the cost of tamely lush profusions past. Often its inherent wilderness had crawled, seeped and swept back over careful rows and tidy plots and plantings.
While they laid Manny in an unadorned box to rest as he chose, an irridescently-necked flock of wild turkeys pecked and called by to show respect and bid final farewell to a quiet friend of times sliding stillborn into yet-unmarked centuries of becoming.
Lila’s chest ached as a forlorn figure faded into the misted forests of memory. A dissenting cry shook helplessly through her.
Moppet curled into furry confusion by her feet to whimper a wetly cool nose against toes turned tensely down into grass and dirt.
“It’s all right, boy. Papa’ll be here in our dreams,” Lila consoled. “We’re not alone. He still cares for us from other worlds,” she assured a tousled, near-howling tawny head.
Their somnolent sadness sifted onto leaves upturned around the stark fissure of his grave for the recumbent storm rumbling on winds loosed by a cryptic sky of disordered clouds stretched wide and high with the blessings and intimations of ages silent in sentry.
She felt his warm arm on her shoulder and the hairs playing against her skin.
“I’ll never leave you,” he promised as the snows whispered past their bedroom window and piled outside against the doors.
“We are,” he repeated over and over.
“We are, and have been, and will be again. There is no end, nor begin. No live or dead. It‘s all of a piece without parting or part. All the rest is illusion, the mirage of selves,” he murmured as they dissolved back into the breath of God.
“Cut,” Todd yelled from the next hill, stepping away from the camera. “perfect-o.” He raised a fist. “We got it that time!”
Nancy shook her head brisky to dispel the mood of her character and lines. George skipped beside her. “Whew. One more time, and I’da given up,” he confessed. “Me too,” she admitted in grateful relaxation.
Todd rolled a wheelbarrow of chilled bottles of imported beers and wines their way.
“How do you feel?” he prodded.
“Paycheck-less,” Nancy groaned while the men laughed in agreed comaraderie.