Hammersmith (eleven)

Hogben

There were two types of men women fell for. Her weeding partner was of the third. Ralph had been. Inclined on their honeymoon to sit by the window, read the newspaper, and tell his new wife, “Go off, look at the stores, if that’s what women like to do. I’ll be fine.” Aimee recalled having a different way of explaining things to herself, eight years ago. Of course, like Nico’s poorest of the poor, out there might be another layer, a male type never encountered, and so never considered.

She shook her head. The point she was making was only this: Bladon Shaw, a fellow competent and busy (though not so much so, as to have gone far in the world), was also quiet-natured and secretive. In his own words, he didn’t need anything. He was not a poor lamb, like Carey…not a bold talker, like Vic, or like—

She ought to call him Monty. She was getting an idea about Mr. Hogben, a last sortie, before she called the battle lost.

Meanwhile, Shaw. She hadn’t succeeded yet in having much to say to him. He seemed to have nothing unprompted to say to her. He had come out to the garden on her heels, after she’d surrendered her kitchen to Minnie; Minnie, making good on her promise of fixing lunch.

“No, goodness, put your feet up!”

And on this day, had her company been wanted anywhere, Aimee might have. She could hear Mrs. Frieslander telling the story to Monty and Biyah—the three of them in the parlor, waiting lunch—about the man whose passage to America her father had paid, on condition of his marrying her eldest sister, and who had married, instead, a girl he’d met in steerage.

Bidding for solitude, Aimee had begun this chore, that Shaw would like to take away from her…because she hadn’t been able to go up and sit thinking in a chair at Carey’s bedside, while he slept. Ruby, at the creek having taken up nursing him, was still at it.

And her nephew, being well suited temperamentally to omitting Jane from his calculations—and bedazzled as he was with Ruby’s birds (Aimee was a bit, herself)—she had put her head round Hogben’s door, meaning to say something pointed about a telegram.

Ruby touched a finger to her lips, then whispered loudly, “I’ll stay, if you don’t mind, unless you tell me I’ll be more help in the kitchen.”

Aimee beckoned her to the threshold, trying anyway.

“Well, it’s your business, what you do…” She seemed to goggle at her own beginning, having swept a glance up the hall. Ruby was thinking of the empty rooms, so found when she’d arrived. She remembered to whisper again, while from downstairs came an upwelling of clatter, something metal striking the kitchen tiles.

“I’ve been let go. But Minnie is still an act. She ought to stop making delays and never mind about me. I’ll only get a room somewhere and see what work is being advertised. She wants to make him take me back. She told him he’s got no drawing card without her, and he said to Minnie, I’ll ruin you. Do you know, she says…”

Aimee did know what Minnie said. Minnie had been saying it, as they’d walked the thoroughfare of Hammersmith. “Starkweather! He thinks…really?…if we went out to Oregon or south to Florida, his big name could scare anyone off booking me. That’s a laugh!”

If he cared about enforcing his contract—and it wasn’t that much money, to be hiring a lawyer over—he’d still have to get an injunction to keep her from performing, and that, dickered anew at every theater.

“It’s probably for the best. I can just have Nico manage me…there’s not that much to it. You need to look like you’re represented, right? LIke no one can talk to you until they talk to your man. But it’s really me who decides.”

To Aimee, it was a little breathtaking, this savviness. If you had a gift, and were confident with it—and were Minnie’s age—maybe the world could look that conquerable.

“Bladon,” she’d said. “What if I start at this end, and you start at the other?”

His face had flickered with something, then he’d pointed to the bottom of the garden. “That shed. Did the storm knock it down?”

“Abel doesn’t mean to have it fixed.”

She’d said this to him with a clear, focused eye, knowing she was making a mystery for Bladon. But he’d nodded, gripped his trowel, and trotted off to kneel at the far end of the rose border. Aimee turned, so she could throw up her hands without his seeing.

She’d been telling herself there were three things, and hadn’t yet got a moment to enumerate them. Maybe there weren’t. But the first, she knew, was that thing her boarder had been thinking of; what Minnie, the devil on her other shoulder, had been thinking of. Infidelity to a contract. Why should Carey not find himself in love with Ruby? There was the old joke about marriage being the cure for love…but then, there were other people.

And then, there was Abel. He was champing at the bit over his contract with Mossbunker.

She had meant, still meant, to honor her own agreement. She’d come late into the lives of Abel and his brother, and had wanted their faith uncomplicated by suspicion, so that, as a family, Ralph’s sons and his new wife could all get along. Ralph was close about money, and would have kept the terms of his will from Abel, but Aimee had told him…she’d written to Junior (who lived in Bangor, Maine, and rarely came down)…that their house would always be theirs.

It was Abel trying to back out. Not that he wasn’t well-intended.

“Derfinger could knock out a couple of walls…he’s willing to do it. You just go up with him and tell him how many rooms you need. You and your aunt.”

Why Ralph’s son’s stepmother’s occupying of Derfinger’s normally empty third floor, would not be good business for everyone…well, in truth, she knew of no condition to raise in contrast with Abel’s notion. She was in accord with him, in theory. Living in town would be pleasant, better for her shopping and her clubs, and for Mrs. Frieslander. Aimee didn’t want a farm for the sake of farming.

And neither did Abel. He wanted to raze the house, divide the site into quarters, build four new houses with money lent him by Mossbunker.

So this, if she could have given it, was the answer to Ruby’s misgivings about her. She’d never been free to ask Carey and Jane to make their home in hers. She would be less so for surrendering her last thread of autonomy.

Now, was there a third thing? Yes…Philadelphia. She was going to ask Monty to take her there.

***

Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster

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