Friday, 20 July 2018
The Forgotten Hollow Tinies: Interlude A - Mrs. Casper and Mr. Ridley
I remember how I first met my neighbours in Forgotten Hollow.
It was back when I was pregnant with my fifth baby - and due any day. I had walked to the store to pick up some groceries, and was heading back down the street towards the Old Mausoleum, when I passed by an old grey-stone house a few yards away.
It wasn't unfamiliar to me. I had noticed it almost every time I had left the house in the years since my deal with the Reaper... just another part of the surrounding landscapes. I also knew it was inhabited, as I'd occasionally spotted a light in the window - but I had no clue who lived there.
That afternoon, however, I was stopped in my tracks by a sharp, shrill voice calling to me across the lawn.
"Pregnant again, I see! You whore!"
As I turned around, shocked and disgusted by this blunt insult, I found myself looking at a stern-faced, "prim and proper" old lady, standing poker-straight on her porch and tapping her foot arrogantly - a disgusted expression plastered on her puckered lips.
Before my alarmed brain had the chance to form the words needed to respond, she'd dashed down the stairs - unusually quickly, actually, given her advanced age - and sauntered up to me as if squaring up for a fight, poking me in the chest with a bony, talon-like finger.
"God, you've got some nerve! Parading up and down this street carefree, showing off your shame for all to see!"
"I... I don't understand!" I managed to choke out in reply. "Who are you? What have I done wrong to you?"
"Trash like you isn't welcome around here," she went on - a venomous hiss in her voice, her finger wagging like a scolding teacher. "Oh yes... I've seen them, all those men friends of yours - coming and going at all hours. You're never short of company, are you? Do any of those brats you've spawned even have the same father?"
My shock turned to anger as I listened to this bile. I could feel my hands balling up into tight, rock-like fists.
"And who exactly is looking after those poor kiddies right now, hmm?" she asked menacingly.
"They're with a babysitter," I answered - taking on the flatest, calmest tone I could muster.
The crone rolled her eyes.
"A likely story. I should call Social Services - have you locked away. You're a disgrace."
I knew a honest explanation would be pointless. No-one would believe some tall tale about meeting the Grim Reaper and making a bizarre deal to cheat death. I myself would dismiss it as pure fantasy, were I not the person it had happened to. Besides... what gave this old coot the right to judge me? We were living in a free and modern country: weren't women able to lead the lives they wanted to?
After taking in a deep, calming breath, I spoke with great care.
"Madam... ever since I moved here, I have never attempted to interfere in your affairs, and I ask that you show me that same courtesy. How I live, and how I act, are no concern of yours. My children are loved and cared for, and that is all that matters. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go home and get their supper ready."
Turning away, I carried on walking down the street, not once daring to look back - ashamed at the tears I found myself blinking away, my hands trembling around the grocery bags. Behind me, I heard one last stinging cry of "Slut!", followed by a door slamming.
Knowing I was now safely out of the sight of that foul witch, I let the tears flow down my face - a little trail of drop strains running parallel to my feet on the pavement. As I passed the house directly next to mine, I heard another voice calling... only this one was gentle and timid.
"Are you all right, Miss?"
Looking up, I saw a smaller red-brick house with the most beautiful, immaculate garden - one that blossomed with fragment flowers, and had clearly been well-cared for. There, just beyond the picket fence, sat on a bench, was a bookish young man: thin and pale, as if he were made out of porcelain, his bright eyes filled with kindness.
He didn't seem to be a judgmental type, but I'd been embarrassed enough for one day. Straightening myself up, I hastily wiped my eyes with the back of my hand.
"Yes... yes, I'm fine."
It didn't fool him. Rising slowly, he moved closer to the fence in order to speak to me more easily.
"Livingstone, I presume?" he said with my smile. "Amelia Zara Livingstone?"
My eyebrows shot up, stunned.
"Don't worry," he said, wearing his hands. "The mailman accidentally put one of your letters in my box yesterday. I had to pop around to yours and post it through. I just spotted the name on the envelope."
I sighed, relieved.
"I saw you talking with Mrs. Casper over the road," he continued. "Did... did she say something to you? Something... not very nice?"
Mrs. Casper. So that was the old trout's name.
I didn't reply, but my silence was telling enough.
"Oh, don't you worry about her," the neighbour added dismissively. "She's just a nosy old busybody. She's always ringing the council, saying my bushes are blocking the road. They never are - I cut them back. She doesn't even come down to this part of the street, anyway. Don't let her get to you."
As he smiled at me, I found myself managing a weak grin in return.
"You live next door, don't you?" he asked. "I've seen you - you and your children. They seem like a lively bunch. The oldest girl reaches through the fence and picks my flowers from time to time, when she gets off the school bus."
That explained a lot. Recently, I found old flower petals and stems in Adelaide's pockets during my last few loads of laundry.
"I'm so sorry!" I said hastily. "I'll have a word with her right away."
"Oh, goodness, no - it's not a problem!" the young man replied. "I'm happy she likes my flowers. Your children are no trouble at all... really. It's nice to see a bit more life in the old neighbourhood."
I blushed, humbled. It felt good to have someone around here who seemed to be on our side.
"My name's Ridley," he went on, offering me his hand to shake. "Gregory Ridley. I was about to make some tea. Would you care to come inside - have a cup with me?"
"Thank you, Mr. Ridley," I replied, "but I really should be getting back to my children."
"Of course. Another time, maybe?"
"Yes. I'll arrange something."
"Wonderful. Have a good night, Miss Livingstone."
Crossing the threshold of my own home, I felt in much better spirits. Sure, I could have done with Mrs. Casper's company, but Mr. Ridley, on the other hand, seemed like a friendly fellow, and he was OK with the kids. I could only hope other people in the town would see my situation through his eyes, and not the old hag's.
After I'd packed away the groceries into the kitchen cupboard and served the kids their dinner, I retired to the bathroom for a relaxing bath. As I stripped to my underwear and reached for a bottle of bath creme, the plastic vessel suddenly plummeted onto the cold, tiled floor - my hands rushing to my stomach as a sharp pain ran through it, making my knees buckle. It was unnerving, but all too familiar. My next baby was on the way.
As the sun rose through the nursery window early the next morning, another introduction was made as the world welcomed my latest daughter.
E is for Einin, beauty and grace.
(Baby 5 - Einin Bandura Livingstone)
"Einin" is an Irish name, prounouced "a-neen".
I hope people are enjoying this project - I know it's differently structured to my previous works, and feedback is always welcome!