Her father hadn’t seen the host of faults, communicated in his offhand errand, the one he’d promised Mossbunker he would do himself.
“Stage name, that’s the phrase you want. Ask her if it’s one.”
Minnie Leybourne, Mossbunker the patriot would like to know whether you’re Jewish or Catholic…Lebanese or Sicilian, possibly. She’d said this to herself. But June had then stymied her father, telling him, “Fine, I’ll go up to the castle tomorrow.”
“Nn…oo…” he’d answered, deciding on his feet. “Mossbunker won’t know what to make of it. Better stay here and hold down the fort.”
She was always holding down the fort. At the moment, she was seeding the window boxes, with the marigolds she attached no blame to, but did not like as a type of woman’s fancy. June was not partial to flowers. She was not good with them. Her father was inclined to tell this thing to other people. His daughter’s green thumb. Her busyness, with her tomatoes and her sweet peas. Couldn’t grow anything, himself. Well, the sweet peas were for the hummingbirds. The hummingbirds were free and lighthearted, pleasant, she thought, to look at.
And, of course, these window boxes were a sort of civic duty. Derfinger had them. Mrs. Toucey had them. Bott had, for his bereaved customers, an elaboration of front garden. A contemplation garden, so called by Selma Bott.
“Yes, no time like the present,” June had told her. Selma had given her a pitying head-shake.
June had spent the morning down below, where the old press was, and the new, rented Linotype. And after slugging out, for the Sunday edition, such speeches and posturings of the Congress, as her father had picked up from yesterday’s telegrams, she’d climbed the basement stairs to mind the store.
“Chilly, if you want to take off now…”
Chilly told her again, what he enjoyed saying, that nobody got the Signal until he came to give it to them. Her father was there, across the street, sitting in Derfinger’s window, with Abel Bard. Biyah’s news that morning, that Mossbunker was gone, had made nonsense of his command.
“He didn’t,” her father had asked, “leave you any message to pass along? By word of mouth? Or,” he’d added, as Biyah, on the verge of saying no, stopped himself for the sake of politeness, to finger his chin…in the way of a man taking a moment’s thought, “didn’t suggest you oughta carry one back to him?”
“No,” Biyah said.
June watched her father and Abel, behind the glass, crane their necks. Mr. Hogben, who’d right away taken a shine to Mrs. Bard, was walking with her, Shaw trailing…carrying, for some reason, a bird-cage and a sack. Hogben lifted his hat. June gave him the second irritable glare within their acquaintance. And he was probably her best chance.
The bloom, she told herself, was off the rose. She meant Hogben’s. That one or two times, June had heard this insult, and the subject had been Mack’s unmarried daughter, didn’t make the idea unfunny to her. Hogben, nearer fifty than forty, might have a paunch, his complexion might be florid…he was still handsome. If he were leaving tomorrow on the first train, she would be pleased to leave with him. And what a treat that would be for Hammersmithans. But she thought Hogben was a nice man, and wouldn’t entertain this. He swindled people, and he was a nice man, why not? Her father had set everyone to keep a look-out, make clandestine report, whenever Hogben tried selling them anything.
But then again, Vic B. Mack wanted Mrs. Bard to marry him.
June had a corner-of-the-eye impression of bobbing heads in Derfinger’s window. She turned from the box with a handful of crabgrass shoots, and smacked against someone’s shirt front. She knew who this was. She found herself arrested, seeing his face so near her own. Minnie’s friend, Mr. Raymond, put his hands on her shoulders and moved her aside. She let him go through the door. And at the empty counter, he could cool his heels. Meanwhile, June could do nothing else to hide, than self-consciously scrutinize the dirt she’d just cleared of weeds.
She ought not to blush, of course. That was only because she knew her father had seen it, this clumsiness. He was probably chuckling to Abel right now. She was fairly certain Nico had come for a print job. He wasn’t going to get it, not unless he could decide June Mack worth speaking to, after all.
“Oh, Lord, Daddy, please don’t.” She muttered these words…but then, her father didn’t cross the street. He didn’t wave or call, only hustled up on Shaw’s heels.
“My sister,” Nico said, putting his head around the door frame.
Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster