A few days ago I was at work, helping a man apply for a credit card. He would answer my questions with “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and so on. At one point, he looked right at me, and asked, “Ma’am, if you you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”
I had to think. “Twenty-nine,” I answered, truthfully.
“Twenty-nine? I’m almost forty.” He shook his head. “Why do I keep calling you ma’am?”
“Well I am standing behind a desk asking you a bunch of personal questions.”
He didn’t have a response to that.
Honestly, I think the real answer to that question is “it’s a Southern thing”. No one called me ma’am when I lived in DC. When a New Jerseyite worked at the Paint Desk, he asked me why everyone called the guy in Appliances Mr. Blessing. “I thought it was his first name!”
“It is,” I had said. “It’s a Southern thing. A term of respect.”
That answer didn’t satisfy him, and truth be told, it doesn’t satisfy me either. I’ve noticed that different names get different levels of respect. Steve and Thomas in Electrical are both equally respected by fellow associates, by only Thomas gets called Mister. Part of it, maybe, is the rhythm of their names. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Blessing flows off the tongue better than Mr. Steve or Mr. James. Maybe it’s also the Baptist tradition, you know, how Baptists refer to each other as Brother and Sister because we’re all children of Christ or something like that? Or maybe it’s, you know, the slave thing.
Most Northerners really encounter such denominations in old books, like Pride and Prejudice. It’s weird that most people only encounter Pride and Prejudice on these things, because the Bennets are shown specifically avoiding that stuff (which is how all the outsiders to Merrifield know that they’re classless hooligans). In Pride and Prejudice, all the daughters are “out” (able to go out in society and meet men). Usually there was a very specific pattern to all this. Take my family.
Typically, only one daughter is allowed “out” at a time — the eldest. She is referred to by her last name. The other daughters, since they are still basically children in the household, are referred to by their given names.
But then the eldest daughter gets married.
A highly accomplished half-Jew marries a Roman Catholic, who knew? Anyway, the fact that Lacey and I are twins complicates things a bit. Even though we were born AT THE SAME TIME, I AM STILL CONSIDERED THE YOUNGEST, and have also always been considered sickly. So it’s possible my parents wouldn’t have let me “out”, or perhaps would have had me wait a few extra years.
Or perhaps they wouldn’t have, considering that we are only separated by a minute.
And so I married, leaving just the one Miss Hancher.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately looking at wedding photos. I remember this picture. I would always stop at it. It’s a great picture of Deb. She looks so happy. I looked at it and thought, this is the picture that will be shown at her funeral.
This morning, I emailed this photo to the funeral director, to be used in her obituary as for identification purposes.
There’s another picture — I won’t post it here — the photographers were taking pictures of everyone coming back down the aisle. Lots of pictures of James and I, and a few pictures each of our attendants, followed by my parents. Last but not least was Deb, being pushed by her sister Marcia. Unlike all the other pictures, where she’s smiling and engaged, Deb is shown hunched in her chair, frowning. She looks tired. It cost her so much to get to our wedding.
A few days ago, before she had passed, I was at work. I turned to get some paint. All the sudden I thought about that picture, and I had to bend over and just feel for a minute. As the day wore on, I just got more and more tired. I didn’t really want to listen to anyone.
I remember talking to Harold, Marcia’s husband. “I met Debbie when she was a two-year-old curly blonde girl who just wanted everyone to pick her up,” he told me. “She was the flower girl at our wedding. We had to put off our wedding for three weeks because Juanita told me that she was giving birth — she was having Lynette.” Then he started talking about how they had hardly any time for themselves because seven siblings and their children and grandchildren meant constant birthdays and holidays, and then Marcia made him stop talking so I could leave.
With no living spouse and only the one kid, Deb really only has one heir, and that’s James. Today we walked all throughout her house and started touching on what we would want to keep and what we wouldn’t. The beds, the furniture in the sun room, the breadmaker, the dim sum set.
“She’s still decorated for Christmas,” said James.
“I like these little ceramic houses,” I said.
James and I picked them up and examined them. James pointed out that they were limited edition collector pieces from England. “They good Christmas decorations,” I said.
“We can get rid of these leather-bound books,” said James.
“And I know you hate these nutcrackers.”
“Those things are awful.”
“What about these Drumel figurines?” James asked me.
“She only ever talked to me about one of them,” I said. “The little boy with the cello on his back. She told me that was you.”
I stopped and flipped through family photos whenever possible. I only met his dad the one time; the next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, heavily sedated, on the verge of death. I tried to find some semblance of knowing this family. I looked at the pictures of James’ parents together. There was one of them with the same haircut and plaid shirt on. James laughed at it. I studied the way they looked at each other.
I remembered standing with Deb over his dying body. I had asked how they met. They had met in college, through mutual friends. When he said that they weren’t going to see each other for a while, Deb assumed she was being dumped, and returned all of his things. When he found all of his things on the porch, he had broken down into tears. That’s how his mother knew Deb was special. They got together a few months later. They were together for nearly forty years.
“I think if the roles had been switched, Dad would have ignored her living will and fought to keep her alive,” James said.
I found the pictures of them cutting the cake. I remembered cutting our cake cutting experience. I had never cut a tiered cake before. I had never really thought about how to cut into one, or how small you were supposed to cut the pieces to feed to each other. “Just finish it up,” I remember someone hissing at me (or perhaps that had been my imagination). James had been perfect, laughing all throughout and being silly, stealing frosting and kissing me after we had fed each other.
There was no sign of that awkwardness with the two of them. They were laughing. Deb had that face. She had that way of holding her face when she laughed.
Across from us in the room, there were family photos hanging on the wall. One was a wedding photo, but the other two were of James. Toddler James, grinning for the camera. One by himself, one with his grandmother. I remembered the second time I met Deb. She had come down to visit James in his apartment. I walked in to see her cleaning the baseboards. Whenever I clean baseboards, I think of her.
After visiting, I had to leave for class. I picked up my book-laded backpack and prepared to go.
“Now a true gentleman,” Deb had said, not looking at either of us, “Would carry a lady’s bag and walk her to her car. He would open all the doors for her, and put the bag in her car, and give her a kiss before helping her into her car.”
I looked at James, and James looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Have a good class!”
Deb sighed and looked at me and said, “I swear I raised him better.”
I think what I’ll miss most of all is the opportunity. I just didn’t know her that well. Our relationship never evolved beyond “you are the mother of the person I am with.” We never became friends. We were hardly even family. I wanted to show her her grandchildren, and those grandchildren would do something, and she would say, “James used to do that when he was that age.” Or maybe one day I would call her up and said, “I’m thinking about painting my hallway, do you have any ideas?”
But that will never happen.
When Lorna untied the knot, she found herself — somewhere familiar. The trees were gray, the leaves were dark, and she could smell the dampness in the air. Beneath her feet, the leaves were wet. She glanced around. There were thorns. A crow screamed nearby. Somewhere — behind her, to the left — there was a brook. The brook led back to the village, if you went upstream.
Lorna walked forward. She untied the knot fully, and then she plucked a different string from her pocket, her fingers working quickly. She had to hardly look at what she was doing. She could feel the strings vibrate. Someone was near–
She barely stepped out of the way in time. A figure fell. Lorna stopped and turned. The figure scrambled in the leaves, regaining her feet. A dull brown dress, a grey apron, dark brown hair, cut short, and finally the girl turned to look Lorna in the eyes.
Lorna looked back at herself. Her eyes were wide, frantic, terrified. There was a cut on her cheek and on her neck. Her nose was rubbed raw with dirt and more dirt, or perhaps blood.
“Quickly,” said this Lorna, “Which way to the village?”
“A doppelganger,” Lorna guessed.
“Tell me, stranger, please, which way to the village? The witch has been gone for three days, I only just escaped — father said mother could hide me, that she would, she could, where is the village?”
“A specter,” said Lorna. “A mirror specter, or an uncreative one.”
Lorna grabbed her shoulders. “Please, miss, please tell me, I have to find my way home — the witch could be back any minute–”
“You’re the witch’s girl,” said Lorna. “The one everyone keeps talking about. I saw you, you were throwing leaves in the king’s palace.”
“It was me, miss, please, tell me where the village is.”
“You have been Lorna the whole time,” said Lorna.
“Please, please, miss, please, where is the village?” Lorna fell to the ground. There were tears in her eyes, they looked so much like her mother’s, like Lorna’s. “My father only just cut the scarf, and I’m free, and the witch will be here soon, I’m sure of it, please, tell me where the village is!”
Lorna froze. She looked around. She scuttled off, struggling on four limbs. She found a tree, and hid behind it.
Lorna could sense it too. She looked around, clutching her knot. She wrapped the two ends around her two index fingers. She wrote runes in her head, thinking of the power. The air smelled of swamp and rot. The witch was coming.
She turned, and there she was, the witch.
“Where is my sister?” asked Lorna.
“You have no sister,” said the witch.
“I do have a sister,” said Lorna, “She is my only family, and you will return her to me.” She twisted the knots in her fingers.
But the knots struggled against her fingers. One knot poked a different direction than she meant. Lorna felt the mud beneath her feet. The witch was trying to throw her off her balance, take away her movement. “You never had a sister,” said the witch, “You even called her Cousin growing up.”
Lorna started a new knot, feeling the roots beneath the mud move. If the earth was free, then so were the trees.
“She is like a sister now.”
“She is not even a girl.”
“She is my only family now.” Now, with Jonpast’s daughter huddled behind a tree, Lately would be Lorna’s only family indeed.
“I am your mother,” said the witch.
“You are not my mother.” Lorna frowned.
“I am your mother,” said the witch, “I carved you from the rotten earth of this forest and nestled you in the arms of a dumb animal of the village.”
“Then the earth of this forest hates you,” said Lorna.
The roots snapped out of the earth, throwing mud every which way. But the witch threw out her arms, and great rocks knocked the roots out of the way, leaving her unharmed but covered in mud.
“Are you surprised then?” said the witch.
“I have met Jonpast’s daughter,” said Lorna. “She is no peer of mine, dumb and scuttling on the earth, throwing leaves every which way. You cannot touch the soil of humanity.”
“You threw leaves into the halls of great kings because you cannot touch their ground.”
Her right foot sank into the mud, but Lorna’s magic undid her shoelace, and she touched the mud with her own stocking foot, feeling the ground between her toes. The witch’s lip curled in fury. A vine snapped behind Lorna, but she plucked a snot. The roots caught the vine and pulled down the tree. The witch sailed into the air. She lifted up her hands, and water poured into the earth.
Lorna screamed, and fire burst forth. The water evaporated into steam.
“You tricked the hunter into switching his child, and then you were trapped by your own servants for fourteen years!”
“I own my slaves,” hissed the witch. She flew behind Lorna.
Listen, I haven’t written the parts before this so I’m just gonna stop it here, okay</i<
“What else could it mean?” asked Mother. “That awful place, that awful religion, they chose that husband. And the Hole told me to bow before him.”
“Maybe bowing means something different in Hole,” said the other twin, who hadn’t spoken before now. “What do you do when you bow before a hole?”
“You dig into it,” said the first twin.
“How do you dig into you husband?” asked the Convert. “You, what, you stab him?”
“You stab him,” the mother said, quieter.
The kitchen grew quiet. The candles flickered. Out there, the Island was waiting. He was waiting.
So I want to change my hair. It’s been red and long for years now, it’s time for a change.
This is my natural hair. This picture was taken in late 2014. I think I started dying it a month later.
Here’s what my hair looks like today (and that same shirt…holy crap I’m wearing exactly the same shirt in both pictures, what are the odds)
Anyway, I love this hair color and all. I got married in it.
I want to keep this hair color, and keep pretending like it’s totally my natural hair color, ssshh. But I also want to do something a little different with my hair? Something fun?
I kinda maybe want to try dying the underside of my hair. I’ve been wearing my hair in buns a lot lately, so maybe it could provide a cool twist when I have my hair. And in situations where I should look more conservative, I could just wear my hair down. This is important, as my HR director told me that Home Depot prefers “conservative” looks. I mentioned that a girl in Garden has blue hair, and she replied that she always has her hair nice and neat. So I guess my rule of thumb is “do I look like I’m rebelling against my parents?”
THIS IS WHO I AM, IT’S NOT A PHASE
Except I’m scared to make the next step. I’m paralyzed by indecision.
1) Most two-tone hairstyles seem to come in two kinds: one, your right side is dyed one color and the other is dyed another color. That’s way too “edgy” for me.
2) The other, even more popular alternative, is some weird variation on “ombre” where, like, the top half of your hair is your natural color, and then all the sudden there’s all this blonde on the bottom half of your hair. The transition isn’t a jagged cut, it’s gentle, but it still looks really weird.
Like, it just looks like she hasn’t dyed her roots in a really long time. Like me! I guess I have ombre hair!
I kinda like this, actually.
This, but, like, not neon green.
See, like this!
Or like this, but, you know, not neon!
I LOVE IT LOOK AT IT except not blonde and red, but, like, red and blue? Or red and purple?
I don’t really know where I was going with this.
In an underground tunnel. Claire and Eva are waving flashlights. Claire, 21, is taller, more secure and in her element; she walks briskly, and seems to be looking for something. Eva, 18, follows. She slumps, and has an air of exhaustion about her at all times. Every movement seems to be made of extreme effort.
They find an area lit from above. The light blinks. Claire stops to study it. Eva, uninterested, simply looks around. A camera flashes, not too far away. They turn and look. The camera flashes again. Then another girl steps out of the shadows: Andy, 23, dressed warmly. She has a warm presence, and is smiling. In this case, she seems to be asking for forgiveness.
Andy: Hey, sorry! Your figures just seemed to good, you know, just lit up against the darkness. Your silhouettes were fantastic. I should have warned you. I should have said something. Hi, I’m Andy.
Claire gawks at her. Eva waits, tired.
Andy: I’m an urban spelunker! Explorer. I like Explorer better, don’t you? It flows better. Anyway, I’ve always like exploring abandoned places. There’s just an air of…rawness. Of the humanity that left this area behind.
Claire: Nature creeping in!
Andy: I guess, but you don’t see a whole lot nature in the city, do you?
Claire: We are also urban explorers. Yes. What got you interested in urban exploring?
Andy: I started when I was maybe ten years old. I started exploring all the sewers by my house. I don’t think they were actually sewers, just water runoff. But it was nice and cool there in the summer, and you didn’t really know where you were. I loved that. I just loved being separated from the world. You meet all sorts of cool people doing this. Lots of homeless people, lots of drug addicts. Really interesting people. I tend to just do this by myself, mostly, I’m surprised to see you guys do this in a group.
Claire: It’s just the two of us.
Andy: I guess it’s safer that way.
Eva: We’re here to hunt ghosts.
Eva: We hunt and kill ghosts for profit.
Claire: Not at all.
Eva: We hunt and kill ghosts for fun.
Claire: We don’t kill anything. Ahahahaha.
Andy: You’re ghost hunters?
Claire: It’s a side business. Not even profitable.
Andy: It’s a legit business?
Claire: I guess so? I mean, we’re a registered LLC with an EIN and everything, but, like, that’s mostly just so I can claim business expenses on my tax return. Eva does a lot of the work but I can’t hire her technically, she’s like sixteen.
Eva: I’m eighteen.
Claire: What? Since when?
Eva: The entire time that we’ve know each other.
Claire: What? She’s eighteen.
Andy: You guys are funny.
Andy: I don’t normally hang out with people. I like the quiet. It gets the muses going.
Claire: We’re normally very quiet. Eva hardly talks at all.
Indeed, they look at Eva, and Eva is looking elsewhere, tired and bored.
Andy: So do you think there’s ghosts here? I can feel an energy here.
They Gaze at each other.
Andy: I didn’t catch your name.
The wind blows.
Claire: Is that what I think it is?
Claire: Let’s get it.
Guys I’m kinda tired and I’ll write the hunt later.
The day was dry and hot, but the brook was cool. The women all bunched their skirts around their thighs, knotted them in place, and waded into the brook. Some of them carried baskets and others washboards. The brook was perfect for doing the wash. Large rocks littered the whole brook, so that they could rest the baskets on top of them, or set the whole washboard against the rocks and not worry about them falling over.
Lorna loved going into the woods. Other girls might shirk the duty, but she never did. She loved the smell of the water (other girls said that the water didn’t smell, but of course it did). The other girls said that there were beasts in the woods, bullywogs and will o’ the wisps and bugbears and death dogs and trolls and wolves and bandits. So what if there were? Wouldn’t that be neat?
Her cousin Lately set her washboard down. Lorna set the basket on top of a rock nearby. They set themselves apart from the other women. It was just the two of them, and the shade of the trees. Lorna could feel the rocks under her feet and between her toes. She could feel the dirt wiggling under the current. She could feel the tension of the ground above the river bank, the tree roots snuggling into the ground, the leaves swaying in the breeze (“but there is no breeze Lorna” “there is always a breeze Kaetlan”).
Lately began whistling. It was a bird song. Lorna recognized it. She didn’t know exactly what bird it was (who cared) but she knew what the song was about. The bird didn’t want anyone on his tree, except for ladies, obviously, but the ladies had to know that it was his tree, but they were welcome, but you know, it was his tree. Lately was so good at whistling.
They pulled the clothes one-by-one from the basket and rubbed it into the washboard. They didn’t speak. Lately just whistled, and Lorna just listened. A bird called back to Lately, demanding who she thought she was, this was his tree and his forest, she better apologize and get out of his way. But Lately just kept whistling the same song. Lorna grinned.
The bird became frustrated. Did she want to fight? (well actually he was using the second person, he was saying you, but recounting this, I must use the third person, she)
Lately kept whistling the same song.
Lorna giggled. Lately smiled at her, but she kept whistling. Lorna sometimes wondered if Lately understood bird song. She was so good at whistling.
Lorna heard the bird fly. She turned to look at him. He was a blue-chested songbird of some kind (who cared). He hopped from tree and shrub to tree and shrub, looking for the intruder. Lorna tapped Lately and pointed to him. Lately frowned, confused. She stopped whistling.
The bird hopped around, looking around. He whistled a few notes. He called the intruder a coward, told the intruder that next time he would get what was coming to him, and to never come back. Then he flew back up to his tree.
“That was a pretty boring bird. Why did you show me that bird?” asked Lately.