Hammersmith: Every Sort of Help (chapter eleven)
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 a 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, buried, a male type never encountered, and so never assessed.
She shook her head. Her interior point was only this: Bladon Shaw, a fellow competent and industrious (though not so much 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.
In the meantime, Shaw.
She hadn’t succeeded in having much to say to him. He had nothing unprompted to say to her. He was in her garden, followed on her heels, after she had surrendered her kitchen to Minnie.
Minnie was making good on her promise of fixing lunch. “No, goodness, Aimee, you go put your feet up!”
And on this day, were her company wanted anywhere, she might have. She could hear Mrs. Frieslander telling her story to Monty and Biyah, the three of them in the parlor, waiting the gong—the one about the man whose passage Papa Frieslander had paid, on condition of his marrying an elder sister, and who had come to America married already to 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…
Because she couldn’t go up and sit thinking, in a chair at Carey’s bedside, while he slept. Ruby, having at the creek taken up nursing him, was still at it. 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 had touched a finger to her lips, then in a loud whisper, said, “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…”
The girl seemed to boggle at her own beginning, after sweeping a glance up the hall. Ruby was thinking of the empty rooms. She remembered to whisper again, while from downstairs came an upwelling of clatter, metal implements striking table and tiles.
“I’m sacked, truth to tell. 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 on again. She told him that wax head doesn’t fool anyone, he’s got no drawing card without her, and he said to Minnie, I’ll ruin you. And do you know what she says…”
Aimee, though ignorant of the Human Pendulum, 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 way 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 the terms of that, to be dickered anew at every theater.
“It’s probably for the best. I can just have Nico manage me…there isn’t 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 first. But it’s 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 said now. “What if I start at this end, and you start at the other?”
His face flickered something, then he pointed to the bottom of the garden. “That shed. Did the storm knock it down?”
“Land, it’s been that way… Abel doesn’t mean to have it fixed.”
She said this to him with a clear, focused eye, knowing she was making a mystery for poor Mr. Shaw. But he 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 had 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 what her boarder had been thinking of, what Minnie, the devil on her other shoulder, had been thinking of. Infidelity to a contract…or to an understanding, at least. Why should Carey not find himself in love with Ruby?
The old joke about marriage being the cure for love…
But as for love, Nico and Minnie’s sort was apparently the cure for marriage.
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. Aimee had come late into the lives of Abel and his brother, and 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 his bequests for a posthumous surprise, but Aimee had told them; Abel eye-to-eye…young Ralph, who lived in Bangor, Maine, by letter…that their house would always be theirs.
She was not backing out; Abel was. Not that he wasn’t well-intended.
“Derfinger could knock down 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.”
And why his stepmother’s occupying of Derfinger’s normally empty third floor, would not be good business for everyone…
In fact, Aimee knew of no caveat to raise in contradiction to Abel’s notion. Her sentiments accorded with his, in theory. Living in town would be a relief, better for her shopping and her clubs, and for Mrs. Frieslander. Aimee didn’t want a farm for the sake of farming.
But neither did Abel. He wanted to raze the house, divide the land into quarters, and 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 had 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.
Every Sort of Help
A Daughter’s Sense of Duty
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)