All Bedlam Courses Past (part eighty-three)
All Bedlam Courses Past
An Object in Motion
“Mr. Ebrach, you have been very kind. I’m sure it’s only kindness that accounts for any overindulgence…do I want to say indulgence? Over-willingness, perhaps. But I must remind you, these are family matters.”
The Wednesday call, the coffee conversation. What Eugene might prefer, if his friendship meant anything, could not amount to a defense. No, a middle-aged man can’t keep a young woman’s company, and insist upon it. When her mother has said to him, “You will please, Mr. Ebrach, not allow fondness to blind you to the dangers of gossip?”
You will not draw our daughter from her parents’ house, impose on her tasks which (as you know) are more appropriately hired?
Dangle temptation. Push advantage on unworldly youth. A sip of coffee, the light shrug of a shoulder…a taste, in such language, of innuendo’s danger. Which to Eugene threatened a lot, if it threatened a little.
He could not marry her, because the die was cast.
…and because, probably, he would feel diminished by it.
The dream was oddly about her grandfather. She was riding by train to meet him; the town, according to the dream people, was not New Orleans, though it ought to have been, according to the narrator. Some fugitive stop along the way.
Her brain could not make a picture of New Orleans, but made one of this: a crowded lower street and a Gothic-gabled upper, lined with brittle mansions, every third or fourth a burned-out hulk. You might enter an intact one, that was the bargain; chance it, spend the night there, take possession, begin your improvements…
The fires were always breaking out.
She treated it a matter of business anymore to rise before dawn. To dress in the dark, now blouses buttoned up the front…now she dressed alone anyway, with practiced hands and a mind on other things.
The shutters on the screen porch stood closed, hopeful routine to keep damp off the cushions. The door to her swing wanted easing by the inch, creaking its faint ur ur ur. Creaking, no matter Robert’s weekly oiling.
She sat only breathing and listening until her eyes picked up lights along the water, for the mild friendliness of knowing this house had neighbors. Neighbors and strangers—ahead of Sanderson’s Run lamps burned all night on a flatboat, the railroad’s.
The over-hill way was safe. It would need a full moon; she would meet Ziegler, if anyone, and Ziegler was safe. Mr. Sperling was out there somewhere, she had never seen his house. Also the hands, who knew her.
“Oh, please, can you help me? I desperately need to get into Cookesville!”
Any of them would, why not? Mr. Sperling had hired them, and Papa had hired Mr. Sperling. Yet by Papa’s logic, the two must coexist: a trustworthy man hires trustworthy men, who aren’t to be trusted.
(2023, Stephanie Foster)