Hammersmith: Tactical Exercises (chapter fifteen)
Mrs. Frieslander had volunteered to work the tuning forks.
Oh my, 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 the fork in abeyance, and Ruby heaved a sigh. The picture had not come to Minnie’s mind for days now. She had forgotten the flood, was what it came down to, forgotten poor dead what’s-his-name…
She had not been charitable. And Minnie meant, always, to be charitable.
She was looking at Do, in the key of C Major, 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 the hoodads…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 had wanted, escaping the floodwaters, was the address of Nico’s friend, and her Swiss-crafted forks, the tools of her trade.
“Mr. Hogben is a very nice man.” Ruby said this as though fitting to it, inside herself, a corollary.
At once, a racket of hammering broke the pupil’s concentration.
“Try, dear,” Minnie said. “Never mind him.”
Carey was down from Hogben’s room, hobbling on the stairs…but under his own steam. Eager to help with the singing, yet unable to do so, Shaw had gone back to his porch. Carey with a slipping-in hunch to the shoulders, had plumped onto the settee, grimaced like a comic delivering clunkers while interjecting ill-timed remarks, answered Minnie’s shush with a snuffling and a rustle of his dressing-gown, caught at last her telegraphing eye, and now sat outdoors with Shaw, holding the can of nails and handing them across.
Minnie arched an index finger, and lifted it. Mrs. Frieslander struck middle C.
“Aaaah.” Minnie sang the note herself. “You can’t go wrooong…Ruby dear…just hooold the note you heeeear…”
“AaaaaaaAAAAh…” Ruby sang. She buried her face in her hands.
Minnie allowed this to pass. Generalship, at such a juncture, 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.”
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 singalong. My mother would say that…musicale.” He blushed. He went on. “I like a marching band. I don’t like any dress-up shows.”
“Opera,” Shaw nodded. He dropped his hammer and sat back on his heels. “Didn’t Mack say he was going up to see a parade?”
He knelt on the stairs, nailing on a new tread. Minnie, who’d half decided on a brisk pace back-and-forth, 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 been at the kitchen door with a piece of paper, and something to say to Nico. The two of them had strolled off, and now leaned from the stone arch side by side, making rebellious gestures, their faces, like the flickerings of fireflies, lighting at intervals with grim smirks.
Free love. It seemed to Minnie she would have an opportunity to take pride in her embrace of Nico’s principles.
“Then you don’t own that place. It belongs to your son-in-law.”
Hogben grunted. Aimee found this a participative sort of noise, even the vestige of an apology. At any rate, they were on the subject. It was time to push advantage home.
“No, Monty, I haven’t got any children.”
“Got that nephew, though…” He cocked an eye at her. “Likely to stick around.”
“Oh, you’re not seeing Carey at his best. He’s a good worker.” She believed it of him. She admitted the premise had not been put to the test.
Hogben laughed. “Guess you read my mind. But I wouldn’t have gone and said.”
“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 serious talk with me. I mean…”
The urge to air old laundry was genuine, she surprised herself to find.
“…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.”
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)