From the Antipodes to Here- Part 3

Three months after the miscarriage, Mrs. Simmons still hasn’t regained her health. She lies in bed most of the day, staring at the window. She doesn’t eat much, which has Lucille in a constant state of alarm. Lucille’s taken on extra work at the Haneses’ and the Wrights’ in Avett’s Landing because there’s so little to do here, what with Mrs. Simmons only taking broth and bread and Mr. Simmons away more days than not.

I’ve finished reading Anne of Green Gables to her. We’ve moved on to Anne of Avonlea, and I’ve gotten better at reading. The words don’t get all caught up on my tongue now.

“You’re good at the voices,” Mrs. Simmons tells me one day. “The way you read Anne, it’s different from the way you read Marilla, and Gilbert, and Diana.”

“Thank you.” I’m blushing a bit. “It’s just that I get so interested in the story.”

“Me too.” Mrs. Simmons turns on her side, so that her bright eyes are facing me.

“I wish I’d lived this way,” I say. “In a house in the Canadian countryside, I mean, teaching school, everything going right for me…”

“I don’t think things ever turn out as well for anyone as they do for Anne Shirley,” she says.

“Where are you from, ma’am?”

She’s silent for a while, blinking up at me like a barn owl. Then she says, “Not so far away. It’s a very rural part of Virginia. I was never a debutante from Richmond or Washington, which is, I think, what Henry’s mother would have preferred.” Mrs. Simmons smiles. “Don’t tell her that, of course.”

“I won’t.” The older Mrs. Simmons lives in Avett’s Landing and came to dinner twice a week before the miscarriage. She hasn’t come around much, lately.

“Good.” She stares at the wall for a bit, but I don’t keep reading. Then she says, “You’re a Richmonder, I know that much. What was it like where you grew up?”

“It was all right,” I say. I put the book down. “We moved around a lot, from building to building. Depended on whatever my ma and da could afford at the time. There were seven of us – them and me and my sister and brothers.”

“And your parents, they worked?”

“Da was a barber. Ma was a housekeeper at a family living in one of the fancy houses on Monument Avenue. But she died when I was ten.”

“Oh,” says Mrs. Simmons. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know-”

“It’s all right,” I tell her. “I don’t remember her much.” That isn’t true, but it’s easier to say than the truth, which is that I do remember my ma humming while she did the washing in the courtyard. I remember her favorite blue dress and the way her voice sounded warm and bright, like honey, even when she was mad at me for getting my stockings dirty in the street. “You never did tell me the name of the place you grew up in.”

“It’s too small to have a name.”

“Oh.” I can’t think of what to say to that.

“I was a fish,” she says, all of a sudden mirthful. “I swam all the way from the Antipodes to here, and Mr. Simmons caught me in a net and I turned into a human girl, and now here I am.” She catches me staring and laughs, louder than I’ve ever heard her laugh.

“You couldn’t have been a fish,” I say. “Fish are ugly creatures, with their scales and all. You might have been a seal.”

“A seal, a fish, a bird, it doesn’t matter. I could be any of them and it would make about as much difference to Henry, or to you. Can you brush my hair, Ada?”

‘No, no, I have it. A bird,” I say. “A swan, I think. That’s what you are.” I take up the heavy brush and let its bristles run through her hair so that it slides down her back like a hand. She sighs and closes her eyes, and she doesn’t say anything for a bit. The afternoon is heavy with heat and I can hear a fly buzzing. “Like the swans in the bay, the ones who come in the fall and leave in the spring. You have a long, white neck, just like they do. And they have such graceful wings, like they’re waltzing on the water.”

“That was very poetic.”

“I turn red. “Pardon. I got carried away.”

“It’s all right,” she says. “You make me sound mysterious and grand.”

“Mr. Simmons thinks you’re mysterious and grand,” I say. “Mr. Simmons loves you an awful lot.”

She’s quiet for a bit. I keep brushing her hair.

“Yes,” she says finally, “he does, God knows why.”

Read Part 4