Here’s the second chapter to ‘Gramps and the No Good Busybodies’. I know it’s a day early, but it’s my treat to you since I was already a few days late for my updates on Wound. If you haven’t already you can read chapter one HERE.
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GRAMPS AND THE NO GOOD BUSYBODIES
Written by: Katya Szewczuk
MISS BERNADETTE WANTS TO GO TO THE INN
* * *
It was in the spring of 1962 when I became a local hero. Ms. Harris had collapsed and fell unconscious at one of her country club meetings. She had been horsing down ten hush puppies at a time and ended up choking on the last. As if they were a swarm of scurrying mice running away from a frolicsome feline, those feathered ladies panicked and hadn’t known how to settle the situation. Many of them left the scene, quick as a wink, but I stayed behind, kept calm and had Ms. Harris breathing in no time.
The woman was more than thankful for me and said I could finally dine with the family. It had taken many years, but by the time I was thirty years old she had my suits tailored and ironed, my shoes spit-shined and my messy mop trimmed to my liking. No longer was I considered an errand boy, but a part of the family.
* * *
The beginning of summer came lickety-split and brought many chirping locusts and bruised knees with it. School was out and kids took to the streets. They tossed their crinkled detention slips and homework in the air and cheered for the end of the long school year. Many ragtag boys wished me a happy summer and hurried off to the sandlot to play a ballgame. They were fit to be great leaders like their fathers before them, and yet at the age of thirteen they still loved to get their hands dirty.
When I stopped by the town’s bakery to pick up Ms. Harris’s bread-pudding, I saw a few schoolgirls enjoying the warm weather and playing hopscotch. Suddenly, a miserly old woman who was hunched over, with a frown on her face scolded them and demanded they hurry on home to study their etiquette. Though today was one of the hottest days of the year she wore a mink coat and scarf. She smelt like stale perfume and bitter lemons, and wore powder to smother her true complexion. Her name was Mrs. Borbala Efim’ia, the head of the tax collector agency.
Mrs. Efim’ia migrated from the outskirts of a small village in Ukraine who was known for her pierogis, those boiled dumplings stuffed with potato fillings and sauerkraut covered in a hot, melted butter and onion sauce. She was once a pleasant woman who invited even the poorest of paupers into her home and served them a homemade Ukrainian dinner. Though, when her husband had passed away during a terrible drought, she closed her windows and doors and shut out even the kindest of hearts.
One of the two girls, who were scolded by the woman, had long coils of black hair and porcelain skin. She ran away screaming, while the other whose hair was brunette and choppy put her hands on her hips and in an adult fashion confronted the old woman.
“You’re much too old to care for games, you old hag,” the girl spat.
Her blue sundress was covered in muck, her stockings torn-up by the gravel on her knees; her freckled skin was bruised from head to toe and her eyes burned with passionate emotions. She looked to me like a tomboy with a knack for adventure, but to Mrs. Efim’ia she was a no good varmint.
I hadn’t stayed long enough to see the outcome of the squabble, and returned home to Ms. Harris who moaned and groaned at the house doctor when he spoon fed her some black, goopy medicine.
“Come, diener,” she called the name which meant servant in German, “I need you to pick up my nieces from school. They will be staying with us from now on to learn how to be proper young ladies.”
Pushing the mousy house doctor aside, Ms. Harris pulled a skin-tight, mauve dress over her corset and took to my side. Her portly face was gleaming in delight.
“But, Madam, you see, I’ve to make arrangements for the guests tonight. Might the chauffer pick them up today?”
“Such trouble you give me, diener,” Ms. Harris moped, “Wasn’t it I who saved you from becoming a beggar on the streets? Wasn’t it I who fed you, clothed you and gave you a home? You lack respect. Shall I toss you in the trash for your puckish behavior?”
“No, ma’am,” I whispered.
“Then do as you are told. And wear your best tie. Not a wrinkle, not a stain. You must be a role model to these girls.”
The thought of caring for young girls frightened me out of my wits. A no-good indigent like me who was once a wild youth could never possibly be a good example for any child. Though an order was an order, and I hadn’t any time to complain about Ms. Harris’s requests.
Though, as soon as I stepped out, dressed in my finest tailcoat, the same batty girl with the black curls from the bakery swarmed into the manor and cried for her auntie. Followed by the screaming girl, came the tomboy with the scratched-up knees.
“She’s lying!” the tomboy bellowed running into the foyer with mucky shoes.
The house servants let out a gasp and scolded the young girl for her rude behavior, but no matter the punishment she strived forward.
“Oh, my dear Celia,” Ms. Harris cried, “Whatever did your sister do to you? You’re covered in filth!”
“Auntie, oh, Auntie it was terrible. Bernadette caught an ugly toad from the church pond and waved it round like a flag!”
Ms. Harris’s plump face turned red.
“Bernadette!” she howled, “That is not how a lady plays.”
“It was a small frog, Auntie, not a toad,” Bernadette told.
“Diener, you go on and give Bernadette a bath. She smells like the toad pond.”
“It’s a frog pond, Auntie,” Bernadette corrected brusquely.
The sight of Ms. Harris’s quivering face had my heart leaping out of my chest. She stood from her leather chair and quaked the ground with every step. Even the portraits on the walls and the flower vases shook fearfully.
“Miss Bernadette,” I interrupted before Ms. Harris had beaten the boorish girl, “It’s best we get you cleaned up.”
“You ain’t the boss, ol’ man!” the girl shouted with clenched fists.
She was a mighty fine escape artist, but hadn’t been quick on her feet. The second she tried escaping through the front door, Ms. Harris captured her by her thin waist, scooped her up like a sack of dirty potatoes and hauled her upstairs into the bathroom.
“Auntie!” the younger sister cried, “I need a bath too. Nasty frogs!”
“Hang on, lil’ lass,” I said, approaching the girl, “Are all y’all kids a bunch of goobers ‘round here?”
“I am not like Bernadette,” she replied, “I am a proper Southern lady.”
“And what’s your name, missy?”
“Miss Celia Mary Frances Dalrymple, sir. I’m seven and a half years old. My sister is almost two digits old and she still acts like a no-good delinquent.”
Celia fixed her little, white gloves and curtsied before me.
“My good sir,” she started, “Whatever might your name be?”
“Just call me diener.”
“What a terrible name,” Celia complained, “What is your real one?”
“I cannot say. So please, like your auntie, call me your diener.”
Celia let out coy laughter and hurried upstairs.
* * *
Dinnertime had brought many frivolous guests—pompous, feathered ladies, mustached, pot-bellied chaps, youths with haughty frowns and young tykes who were dressed in tight collared shirts. There was Ms. Harris’s slender sister Sue Ellen, her husband Cash and their three boys Boone, Earle and Austin, a frown-faced cousin named Carolina, her father Grady and her spirited twin brothers called Billy and Bo. Mr. Ritchie Harris joined the bountiful feast as well, along with Celia and the moody Bernadette.
The house servants and I were to serve the dinner at seven o’clock sharp. We dutifully prepared the wine for the adults and sparkling water for the young’uns. Everyone’s posture was straight and hands neatly folded upon the napkins, all except Miss Bernadette who kicked her feet and slouched in her seat.
After Mr. Harris said his gracious prayer, he clapped his hands and gained even the attic mice’s attention.
“As all y’all well know,” he began with a hoarse voice, “the Watanabe family’s inn Ameterasu-ya isn’t booming with the same business it did fifty years ago. Might as well tear it down to start building the agency’s new headquarters.”
“Ameterasu-ya?” questioned the tight-lipped Grady as he chugged down his wine glass and hankered for more, “Heck, you don’t mean that old grandma’s inn in Okinawa do you? It’s our family’s investment we can’t just tear it down!”
“Sure can!” Mr. Harris shouted.
As a servant to a rich man, you hear many rumors, telltales and stories about business and personal lives. Unlike the maids and foot servants, I hadn’t cared for the chinwag of gobbledygook. Conversely, when I heard mention of Okinawa, an overwhelming feeling of excitement surged through my chest and almost caused me to scream out in joy.
“What’s an inn?” Miss Bernadette asked, interrupting the rousing hubbub.
“You mean you don’t know, rag-girl?” insulted Carolina.
“Shut your trap, you boy slobberin’ ha—”
“Bernadette!” shouted Ms. Harris. The table shook and the silverware did summersaults in the air, “You are to be excused if you do not quiet down.”
“But, ma’am I—”
“No buts, no whats, not a fuss!”
Miss Bernadette grew quiet by the time the first course was served. She fussed in her seat and kept ruffling her fancy, white dress, but when dessert came around she dove right into her vanilla pudding and went for seconds. Again she asked:
“What’s an Inn, Uncle Cash?”
The man named Cash wasn’t much of a name dropper like his wife Sue Ellen and got a kick out of the tomboy’s curiosity.
“An inn, my girl, is a big building were travelers can take a load off and rest for many nights. They are provided with the best service and tended to like kings and queens.”
“Kings and queens?” Miss Bernadette mimicked.
“Indeed! Every man is given his own bed and bath and can even be given a massage, which I always tend to look forward to.”
Sue Ellen rolled her big, blue hues and fixed her tasseled hair behind her ear.
“The Ameterasu-ya isn’t a regular inn, Cash.”
“A ryokan, isn’t it?”
The woman shook her head.
“That isn’t what I mean.” She took a spoonful of pudding and handed me her empty wine glass as I furtively listened, “Bernadette, dear, they say the Ameterasu-ya is haunted. It’s probably why it’s being shut down.”
“I love a good ghost story!” Bernadette yelped, “Auntie Coralee, can we go to the inn before it shuts down?”
Ms. Harris, having been disgusted by Bernadette’s interruption pointed her long, red nails at her and shook her finger thrice.
“What did I tell you about shouting at the table?”
“Auntie Sue Ellen says the inn is haunted!”
Sue Ellen was shamefaced.
“No need to tell everyone these superstitious thoughts, dear,” Sue Ellen mumbled.
“Now, Sue Ellen, why ever would you say that?” questioned Mr. Harris.
“Yeah, Mam’ma!” cried Boone, “You don’t believe in no ghost stories.”
“Ain’t you a skeptic?” wondered Grady.
“You see,” the blonde began, “Last time I spent my holiday there, the old lady said she heard the cries of the kinushii again.”
“Kinushii?” questioned Celia, “Just what are those?”
Cash touched his wife’s shoulder and cleared his throat.
“On Okinawa,” he explained, “the people believe the kinushii are tree spirits and guardians of the forest trees. If a tree were cut down one would first pray to these spirits and then cut it. If one does not pray before the cutting or even if a tree falls in the dead of night, an echoing cry would be heard, which is said to be the anguish of the kinushii.”
“The old lady said she hadn’t stopped hearing the kinushii’s cries ever since the inn lost business. She said those who even go near the forest would be cursed.”
“Oh, no!” cried Bernadette, “We’ve to help them!”
Everyone at the table laughed.
“They’re just stories, rag-girl,” spat Carolina.
“Yeah,” said Bo, “You’ve out’ta be stupid to believe in them stories.”
“Hush, now you two!” scolded Sue Ellen, “You’ve no right to judge.”
Bernadette turned red in the face and crumbled her arms to her chest.
“Well I know for sure God wouldn’t want you to be talkin’ poorly ‘bout them kind Japanese folks,” she cautioned, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged! Well you judged, so I’m a’gonna judge you, you slimy, no-good wussy!”
The bald-headed, stout Bo slammed his fists on the table and hollered:
“All y’all hear that? Ain’t no good girl a’gonna call me names!”
“You ain’t be judging nobody, fat, pinheaded—”
“This is the last straw!” cried Ms. Harris, “Go to your room immediately Bernadette!”
“But, Auntie he—”
“No buts, no whats, no fuss! Now go!”
In that moment I knew Miss Bernadette Dalrymple wasn’t a bad apple seed, but a determined, little girl who only wished to do good for the soiled world. As she hurried up the stairs I knew deep down in my heart I needed to speak and show the family that she truly was a proper young lady.
“Ms. Harris,” I softly started, “It would be a wonderful lesson for the girl if she could head on over to the inn in Okinawa and maybe learn a few manners from them folks.”
“Too risky,” Mr. Harris grumbled, “If the girl is to cause any troubles, Mrs. Watanabe would never give us the deed to the ryokan.”
“I would be her escort. Ain’t no trouble for me.”
“You?” said Ms. Harris, “Go all the way to Japan? Never in my life had I heard a more ridiculous request.”
In the quarrel of it all Cash stood up and raised his arms.
“Now hang on just a moment. I think what this good man is sayin’ will benefit our family some.”
“Hush, dear,” whispered Sue Ellen.
Cash cleared his scratchy throat and continued:
“We could all use a vacation. Might as well spend it at the ryokan before the place closes down for good. C’mon Ritchie, don’t you ‘member all the good times we had there?”
“Don’t be frolickin’ in the past, Cash. Does you no good.”
“Well I agree with the servant,” Grady spoke up.
“I second that agreement,” said Sue Ellen.
“Aye!” shouted Boone, Earle and Austin.
I could not believe my ears. Though my splendor had not been favored amongst the feathered women and mustached men, and my class had differed, they sided with my proposal and argued with those who opposed. It was indeed an exciting evening, and when Ms. Harris raised a thick, crayon brow and drew a heavy sigh, I knew I was one step closer to finding Mr. Kazuhiro.
“Who wants some imported saké?” asked Cash.
And there were cheers all around the table.