Hammersmith: A Daughter’s Sense of Duty (chapter twelve)
A Daughter’s Sense of Duty
Her father hadn’t seen the host of faults communicated by his offhand errand, the one he had 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 said this to herself. June then stymied her father, telling him: “Fine, I’ll ask. What time does the castle receive callers?”
“Nn…oo…” She watched him 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. She was, at present, 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.
And, of course, these window boxes were a sort of civic duty. Derfinger had his. Mrs. Toucey had hers. Elton Bott had, for his bereaved customers, an elaboration of plantings. A contemplation garden, so called by Selma Bott.
“Yes, no time like the present,” June had said to her. To contemplate death, she had thought hard at her. Selma returned a squint of wary doubt, then decided to pity Mack’s daughter, shaking her head.
June’s morning had been spent down below, where the old press was, and the new, rented Linotype. After slugging out for the Sunday edition such congressional speeches and posturings as her father had picked up from yesterday’s telegrams, she had climbed the basement stairs to mind the store.
“Chilly, if you want to take off now…”
Chilly said again what he enjoyed saying, that nobody had a Clew until he got there to give it to them. Her father was across the street, sitting with Abel Bard in Derfinger’s window. Biyah’s news, that Mossbunker was gone to the city, had made nonsense of his command.
“He didn’t leave you any message to pass along? By word of mouth? Or,” her father added, as Biyah stopped himself saying no, and in the way of a man taking thought, fingered his chin, “he didn’t suggest you oughta carry one back to him?”
“No,” Biyah said.
June saw her father and Abel, behind the glass, crane their necks. Mrs. Bard was walking with Hogben, who right away had taken a shine to her; Shaw trailing…carrying, for some reason, a birdcage, and a sack. Hogben lifted his hat. June gave him the second irritable glare of their acquaintance.
And this man was probably her best chance.
The bloom, she told herself, was off the rose. She meant Hogben’s. The occasions June had heard this insult, where the subject had been Mack’s unmarried daughter, didn’t make the idea unfunny to her. Hogben might have a paunch, his complexion might be florid, he might be nearer fifty than forty…but she could still call him handsome. If he were leaving tomorrow on the first train, June would be pleased to leave with him. And what a jaw-flapping treat 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 everyone set to keep a lookout, make clandestine report, whenever Hogben tried selling them anything. But then again, Victor B. Mack wanted Mrs. Bard to marry him.
June caught a corner-of-the-eye impression of heads bobbing in Derfinger’s window. She spun from the box with a handful of crabgrass shoots, and smacked against someone’s shirt front.
She knew who this someone was. She found herself arrested, seeing his face so near her own. Minnie’s friend put his hands on her shoulders and moved her aside. June stalled, scrutinizing dirt well-cleared of weeds.
It was idiocy, of course. She blushed because she knew her father had seen it, that intimate clumsiness. He was probably chuckling to Abel right now. She was fairly certain Nico had come for a print job. Which he wasn’t going to get…at the empty counter, he could just cool his heels. Unless he decided June Mack worth speaking to after all.
“Oh, Lord, Daddy, please don’t.”
She muttered this…but her father, popping out of Derfinger’s, didn’t cross the street. He didn’t wave or call out, only hustled up on Shaw’s heels.
“My sister,” Nico said, putting his head around the door frame.
A Daughter’s Sense of Duty
All Safe Bets Off
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)