Hammersmith (fifteen)


Hogben

 

Mrs. Frieslander had volunteered to work the tuning forks.

The weight of them had nearly burst the seams of Minnie’s reticule, as she recalled, back then

She hardly knew what to think of herself.

She said this aloud. Mrs. Frieslander held a fork in abeyance. Ruby heaved a sigh. This picture had not come to Minnie’s mind for days now. She’d forgotten the flood, was what it came down to. She’d not been charitable. And she meant, of course, always to be charitable.

“I suppose.”

She was looking at C, therefore at Mrs. Frieslander, as she spoke. But she spoke in idleness. “Mr. Hogben, when he goes up to Minneapolis to pay his respects to…what was it…the Beauregards…can carry along whatever money we raise.”

“Ah! My purse is in my basket. I forget you saying, Minnie. But take a dollar…if that’s enough. I may not have a dollar.”

“No, ma’am. I didn’t say. I just dreamed it up this minute! No, lovey, we won’t take your money. But don’t you think that’s what we ought to do, Ruby? When we have our little rehearsal? Charge something extra at the gate, I mean.”

All she’d wanted, escaping the floodwaters, was the address of Nico’s friend, and these, the tools of her trade.

“Mr. Hogben is a very nice man.” Ruby said this as though fitting to it, inside herself, a corollary.

“Middle C.”

At once, a racket of hammering broke the pupil’s concentration.

“Try, dear,” Minnie said. “Never mind him.”

Carey had come down from Hogben’s room, hobbling on the stairs—but under his own steam. Shaw, eager to help with the singing, but unable to do so, had got back to his porch. And Carey, unable to feel at ease making himself useless, was outdoors with Shaw, holding the can of nails, handing them across.

Minnie arched an index finger. Mrs. Frieslander struck middle C.

“Aaaah.” Minnie sang the note herself. “You can’t go wrooong…Ruby dear…just hold the note you heeeear…”

“AAAaaaaAAh…” Ruby sang. She buried her face in her hands.

Minnie allowed this to pass. At this juncture, generalship was needed. Her trouper had a case of lost nerve.

“Ruby, go take a swallow of lemonade. Let me think.”

“Oh, it’ll be no use.”

Not insulted, Minnie murmured, “Ye of little faith”, and stepped through the open door. “Carey, do you like music?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He thought about this, then interrupted Minnie’s thoughts—already striding ahead. “I like a musicale. I mean a sing-along. My mother said that…musicale.” He blushed. He went on. “I like a marching band. I don’t like any dress-up shows.”

“Opera,” Shaw said. He dropped his hammer and sat back on his heels. “Didn’t Mack say he was going up to see a parade?”

Shaw was on the stairs, nailing on new treads. Minnie found herself corralled. “Carey”—she distracted herself with this—“can you think of a song you know the words to?”

But from the corner of the porch railing, she could see the little bridge. June Mack had come with a piece of paper, wanting to say something to Nico. The two of them had strolled down that way.

Free love. It seemed to Minnie she would have an opportunity to take pride in her embrace of Nico’s principles.


“You don’t own that place. It belongs to your son-in-law.”

“Step-son.”

He grunted. Aimee thought this a participative sort of noise, at any rate—the vestige of an apologetic mood expressed. They were on the subject. It was time to push the advantage home.

“No, Monty, I haven’t got any children.”

“Got that nephew, though…” He cocked an eye at her. “Likely to stick around.”

“Well, no…Carey is a good worker.” She believed it of Carey. She admitted the premise had not, in any scientific way, been put to the test.

Hogben laughed. “Read my thoughts. But I wouldn’t have gone and said that.”

“Monty.” He had already given her his arm. She put her other hand on his bicep. “I want you to tell me anything. And tell me frankly. Ralph never would have a talk with me. I mean…” This urge was genuine, she surprised herself to find; confiding in Monty not mere campaigning. There, she’d used his first name without telling herself to.

“He had his stock phrases. He had his way of treating most of what I said to him as…”

“I’m listening, ma’am.”

“A little joke. A woman’s fuss to smile at.”

***

Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster

 

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