Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SLIP OF THE TONGUE (01/26/17)
TITLE: New Girl in Town
By Ann Grover
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My baby daughter is napping, and I stand by her crib, listening to her gentle breathing. I tiptoe away, already missing her.
David is waiting by the door to see me off. He kisses me. “You smell good. Sure you want to go?” He grins.
“It was your idea I go,” I say.
“And you will. And you’ll have fun, getting out and seeing something besides diapers and my ugly mug.”
“David, if Olivia ...”
“She’ll be fine. I’m her daddy, remember?” He kisses me again.
Away I go. To the Ladies’ Sunshine Circle meeting at the Greenfield Methodist church. Now that Olivia is beyond the insistent newborn stage, it is time for me to get out and about, to see the world, even the tiny world of Greenfield, population of 2148. We’d moved here after Olivia’s birth, wanting to raise her somewhere wholesome and quiet.
The air is intoxicating, filled with the fragrances of lilacs and daffodils and lilies. A thrill of excitement surges through me as I walk to the church.
Mrs. Barclay -- call me Eldina, dear -- greets me at the church door and leads me to the fellowship room. I try to remember the ladies’ names as I’m introduced: Bernice, Agatha, Iris, Helen, Betty, Thelma. They are a blur of silvery hair, pastel cardigans, and sensible shoes. I sit between Helen and Bernice, who are sisters, and I learn everyone is related. Sisters, in-laws, cousins, cousins to in-laws. All have lived in Greenfield forever.
“I guess I better not gossip to anyone about anyone else,” I say, thinking myself clever.
There are polite chuckles.
We write cheerful notes to shut-ins and design a roster of volunteers to make meals for them. I offer to make lasagna, and Agatha suggests I make custard instead. Or rice pudding. Grandma Sawyer is toothless, and Great Uncle George is prone to turbulent bouts of dyspepsia.
The pens and paper are put away, and we move on to tearing worn sheets into long strips which are then rolled up for bandages to send to Africa. The air is thick with lint.
While tearing one sheet in particular, Iris declares, “My goodness, I remember hemming this sheet for Mary Brown when she got married back in 1938.” The others nod, reminiscing.
I am astonished. 1938! Before World War II, before Elizabeth became queen, before Elvis, before Hillary and Everest.
I say it. “Gosh, if sheets could only speak!”
Each woman lowers her eyes to her task.
Finally, it’s tea time. I help Eldina set out teacups and saucers and plates of homemade dainties. Her hands are like fluttering birds as she folds napkins.
“Are you enjoying yourself, dear?”
I nod, but I feel like a schoolgirl, naive and immature, a child in the shadow of their wisdom and virtue.
As we sip and eat, the ladies prattle on about news in the community. I listen quietly, intent on nibbling a date square without getting crumbs on my blouse. The cake is delicious. I must get the recipe.
“How old is your baby?” Thelma leans close to ask.
“Ah, such a precious time. It’s been a day or two since we all had our babies, hasn’t it, ladies?”
“My first was breech,” says Betty. “Jack’s been doing things backwards ever since.”
“Doc Templeton had to reach in like I was a dairy cow.”
“I was seeding oats when my waters broke.”
“Frank took me to town in the sleigh.”
I am one of them now, joined by motherhood, and I am eager to share my own fresh birthing story. How Olivia had been reluctant to emerge, and I’d been medicated to expedite her arrival, then medicated to ease the pain.
When it’s my turn, the words tumble out. “When I had Olivia, I was seduced.”
Teacups clatter and cookies halt in midair.
“Well, they certainly do things differently nowadays,” Helen says.
“I mean ... I was sedated ... and induced ...”
Eldina laughs first, heartily, and soon all are shuddering in mirth and dabbing their cheeks with snowy hankies. Finally, I laugh, too, my mortification fading.
“You are a real treat,” Eldina says. “Sunshine Circle, indeed. We’re a gloomy and grim bunch, in need of a little brightening up. Welcome, dear.”
I am received in a flurry of lavender-scented hugs. I am one of them.
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