Ardensville

Chapter 17

        She had seen Penny’s inside outside dual identity truck from
    the road so finding the home of her first Ardensville encounter
    was no problem. Like many here, homes that is, there was a
    business in the front and a home in the back. Few people
    commuted to work much more than passing through a separating
    door or walking around to the other side of the building.
       This is a curious thing. In N.Y.C. for instance, few would live
    that close to their business and few own their business and
    a 10 mile commute might bite an hour or 2 from their time
    starved day.
       Here in Ardensville, the aggregate opposite of
     hyper – urbanism, closeness is prioritized. Close to work, close
     to home and close to neighbors.
        Penny’s home was set back from the road where her mailbox
     was. A distance that might have qualified as exercise. Celia
     wondered if she drove to pick up the mail or walked. She did
     not appear to be someone who suffered the ravages of exercise.
     Most likely, she just stopped the truck on the way in or out.
        The house was like most in Ardensville; 2or 3 stories with
     steep roofs, wood siding but expressively sturdy and none
     would be seen in public without at least one proper porch.
     Some were maintained better than others but none,
     none occupied were neglected.
        There was a large circular rut out front where it was apparent
     vehicles came, stopped and left. In the axis center of that circle
     was a sign standing in a modest rock and flower arrangement.
     Not as meticulous and fabulous as Miles’ flagpole but, well,
     content. The sign said;      
                       -----------------------------   
                               Penny Corinth
                              Garment Design
                                    Tailor
                                 Seamstress
                              A
                                 Stitch
                                          In
                                            Time
                        -----------------------------
       Cute Penny.
 Celia killed the engine and approached the house
    with the largest of the three boxes. No return address?
        Penny’s exterior was definitely at the lower end of
    maintenance standards but by no means neglected. Her porch
    steps did creak, more than a little. The depression in the cushions
    of one of two large porch chair informed how much it was
    habitually inhabited. Close by was a large flower pot with a large
    dead plant. It’s death probably due to the wealth of cigarette
    butts, dead lighters, bottle caps, lemon rinds, matches and spent
    cellophane snack packaging. Some folks will thrive in that
    environment but not plants and definitely not that plant.
                                                                                Cute Penny.
       Celia put down the package and peered in the screen door.
   Looked like a cluttered old tailor shop. Dim, dusty boxes of
   things and racks with dresses and forms and stuff. She looked
   for a bell or a buzzer and finding neither just called in and
    knocked on the screen door. In that moment of interruption,
    the shop and the house, seemed to gasp and hold it’s breath.
       “I’m comin’ out darlin” a voice cried out from the interior
    wilderness.
        Celia commenced to lean on the house and survey the
     landscape.
                     This is why people paint landscapes. Huh.
        She heard steps and stood erect. Penny appeared through the
   screen door.
       “There you are”, while she unhooked the door hook at eye
   height on the screen door. “Come on eein.”
        Inside the shop now was as if Dorothy had turned and gone
   back into the black and white house. There were patches of light
   from windows but mostly there was dimness. You could not
   really discern the dimensions of the room as the dimness
    obscured where objects end and walls began. Shreds and cuttings
    of material covered the floor like eastern leaves in autumn.
    Jars of buttons and boxes of zippers and all manner of things
    attached and now unattached to Penny’s craft were everywhere.
       Celia did not know where was a good spot to put down the
    box let alone the other two.
     “Well what were you expectin’,  a Christian Dior runaway?”
       “Don’t you mean, runway?” quizzed Celia.
         “That’s what I said, runway. Well those postal blues are a
     real fashion upgrade for you. Keep it up cowgirl.” Penny smiled
    broadly. “When you get tired a’them postal blues and ya startin’
     to think you’re turning into Miles, promise me you’ll come
    and get fitted for some duds you want to get into on any given
    morning.’
       “Someday, when I grow up, I hope to dress myself. And yes,
    I promise.“
       Penny studied this answer unsure of it’s depth.
      “Well just drop that over there and stay still. I’ve got  
    something for ya I‘ll have to dig out.”
        Penny disappeared into the dimness and boxes and racks.
    She could be heard now but not entirely seen. She asked polite
    questions about the progress of Celia’s acclimation into
    Ardensville culture and geography.
      “Gotcha ol buddy!!”
      Penny reappeared with a garment under arm.
      “Let’s look at’er outside in the light” The women stepped out
    on to the porch.
       Penny shook out and presented to Celia a jacket. A jacket of
   Josephian gravity. In form it was only a varsity jacket sort of
   thing but Penny had thoroughly refaced the outside, and inside
   so that it was an impossibly beautiful patchwork of materials
   and colors and shapes. After a pause, Celia picked up her jaw
    and spoke.
     “Penny ! Are you a good witch or a bad witch? That’s the most
    beautiful garment I’ve ever seen. You can’t give that to me.
    I’m not worthy”, gasped Celia.
      “I ain’t no witch at all ya damn mailman. Try’er on. If’n it
   stay in that box the bugs ‘ll have at’er and that will be the
   end of it. We all need to see the light’a day every now and then.
   See if’n it fits while I get us some refreshments.” Penny again,
   vanished into the abyss.
       Once alone, Celia put it on. The experience was more like
    getting naked than dressed. This is what a beloved garment does.
    It was her. All over. It was still a warm day and Celia would
    have no sooner taken off her jacket than she might have  
    torn out her own fingernails. She did not think to ask for
     a mirror.
       In fact, she closed her eyes.
 “Second I saw you I said, you two were meant for each other.”
       Penny had returned with a tray holding two highball glasses,
    an insulated ice bucket, most of a quart of Jim Beam and
     a big bag of big pretzel stix.
      “I got us a three course meal here with all the fixins ‘n most
    of the food groups but I’m a country girl and don’t know no
    better, nor do I care to. Well I’d say you two were already ole
    friends. Fits ya real good cowgirl.”
      “Penny, I don’t know what to say. This should be in a museum,
    not on me.”
       “I make clothes for living bodies, not mannequins”, Penny said
    putting ice cubes in the glasses. “Sometimes the mannequins
    move a lil and I get throwed off. Not this time” now pouring
    big boy drinks and busting open the pretzels.
      “ Come’on now, sit ‘n visit a while.”
        Celia and her jacket parked it in the big patio chair that most
    likely was not where Penny sat and the tray was between them.
    Penny handed her a glass. They clinked, sipped and Penny
     took her seat.
        “So where ya from? Who’s yer people and what in the world
     brings an eastern flower like yourself out to farm country
     like this?”  
         Celia sipped and spun her ice. With her eyes on the sunset
     horizon, and thinking through a fleeting moment of compressed
     time, Celia considered the theatrical situation she was in.
     If she got over now, with this woman, nothing else could go  
     wrong. “Well, I was working at a P.O. outside of  Litchfield
     Connecticut where I was being stalked by a sorter who…..”
          “Sort a what?” Penny interrupted.
          “ Not what, who. Someone who sorts mail. A sorter.”
          “Oh, right. Please continue.”
          “So the stalker who was sorting me……”
           “Huh?”
           “The sorter who was stalking me, wasn’t getting fired by
    the manager who was harassing me. So it’s my day off and
    Jimmy Earl the stalker comes into the P.O. to shoot the place up
    only no one’s there on account of everybody went to see a
    lumber yard burn so he settled for shooting up the office,
    himself and the goldfish I kept on my desk.” Celia stopped
    and sipped.
        “Whew ! I’d say you dodged a bullet right there cowgirl”
    Penny exclaimed raising her near empty glass.
        “Goldfish was the last straw. I put in for a transfer and your
    town seemed far enough. While we’re on the subject, why
    would a magnolia like yourself be out here with
    the cottonwoods? If’n ya don’t mind me asking?” Celia drained
    her cocktail and Penny prepared the next round.
        “I do love them cottonwoods, such elegant and noble plants.
     Now you are a bit young to remember it but whatever and
     all you learned about the civil rights years was not even half
     the story. The further out into hill country, for me,
     Alabama hills, the more vicious and personal it got.        
     For my family, it was like losing the war all over again.
     I never shared their philosophies and I just left first chance
     I had and never went back. My kin forgot about me and
     me them. Sometimes, gets lonely out here, but, then there’s now.
        There’s a good spirit in Ardensville. Can’t say what it is.
     I don’t question it and I love my neighbors. That’s a good life
      in my book cowgirl.”
        Clink ! The girls sat, sipped and chewed pretzel stix while
    the sun kissed the horizon in red and blue and gold.
                                                                                Right on time.

 


                                   Chapter 18

                               “Gods bless a cast iron tub’”
        Must have been a hundred years old. Celia had a shower in
  New York, just a shower. Her entire bathroom in NYC was a little
  bit bigger than the tub she vacationed in now.
        Porching with Penny left Celia just a bit too relaxed too 
   actually fill out her Network reports but she could think about
   them. Big ole’ hot bath was indeed the ideal place to do just that.
        She thought about civility and what that meant. The city had 
   all the civilization that was the other air primary for Celia and, 
   you paid for that divine resource in no small part by conceding 
   that to pursue your muse you will either endure and ignore 
   massive incivility or, through force of wealth, insulate yourself 
   from it. That’s the deal.
        On the other hand, where there is no struggle, no drama. 
   The will that smells like stubborn, that’s the thing. Art that comes
   like sweat. A resting body doesn’t sweat though it might start to
   smell bad. 
       Celia's desire to investigate all she was thinking and all she
   could not make sense of flew off in all directions.
       What was it about this place? The urban/rural comparisons did
   not hold up to scrutiny. Life was good, unstressed and 
   marvelously civil and yet, there was a kind of drama. Sometimes 
   it breathed beneath the covers like some Kafkaesque dreamscape
   and at other times it flowed, as in the improbable chatter of a 
   completely acclimated Penny.
       How could Celia produce substantive reports for the Network
   when with every advance in familiarity came greater enigma.
       Anyway, it was a good day. Shouldn’t ask for too much more 
   than that.
       Celia was not one to suffer having drank enough the night
    before. It felt like having taken a hot bath. Same for her mother 
    but this was not something they might ever have discussed on 
    the porch.
       Up. Had her coffee, got to the P.O., loaded, chewed it 
    with Miles a bit and hit the road. Did the poetic soul of Miles
    accidentally say things that sounded like Keats or had he taken 
    long hot baths in the mineral rich hot springs of John Keats?     
            What is going on here?
       In her few days on the job now, which hummed along with 
    legato ease, she had seen nearly every address in the county,
    almost.
        It was past noon on a particularly hot day. Not yet having tried
   Mr Stephens with the rag top on yet, she was parched due to sun
   on her face and dust in her mouth. She pulled into Rotardo’s for
   something cold to drink. She was familiar with the place now 
   and went directly to the line of refrigerators what housed the soda
   and beer and milk and everything like that. 
      There was a woman in the aisle, muttering as she scanned the
   variety through the glass doors. She wore her hair a little higher
   than most in Ardensville and she  wore a little more blush than
   most women in Ardensville and the sunglasses were decidedly 
   not local. And, in typical irony she was no more, or less, regular
   irregular than anyone else here. Little agitated though.

    “C'mon, c'mon. Gimmeaspecial, gimmeaspecial. Shit,shit,shit.                        Cmon, boysgetstinkingcubansandIcan’tgetaspecilal, fachrissake,
  shitpopandpopandpop pop pop jesusmaryn’joseph.”
       On and on. Celia kept a distance, did not stare but listened hard.
   Eventually she grabbed a couple of bottles of tonic, picked up
   some wrapped packages at the service counter, handed off by the
    big bear sort of a man and headed for the cashier. Grabbed from
    behind by her curiosity, Celia followed.  She did not wait for her
    change at the cashier and kept pace with the mysterious woman 
    in the parking lot. Celia caught up with her as she was putting 
    the key in her locked car door(?).
       “Excuse me but I couldn’t help but notice you seemed to think
    out loud in fluent New Yaghkkkkkkk…”
       Grabbed from behind again though this time by Mike the bear
    from the counter. He held the back of her neck in a paralyzing
    grip. Additionally, there was something poking in her back 
    which Celia soon surmised was the barrel of a pistol.
      “Aw right Barbie, where ya from an’ who sent cha or ya gonna
    be participating in a huntin’ accident. Maybe you’ld like to see
    how da inside of a wood chipper works?”
        Mike’s grip eased off  enough to allow Celia the air required 
    to breath.
      “Do I know Brooklyn or do I know Brooklyn, gahkkk?”
      “In the car Mike, let’s drive.” Mike responded silent and 
   obedient. Both doors, driver’s and the one behind opened and
   closed. Celia was in the back with Mike and his apron and his
   pistol and the woman drove like a demon swearing in thick
   Brooklyn all the way home.
       Home was a comparatively dingy house though like so many
   others might appear from the road. She had noticed this house
   before but had not delivered any mail, which she thought
   anomalous. 
      The woman came to a skidding stop right in front of the porch
   steps. They left the car and Celia just sorta floated up the steps
   with Mike’s arresting assistance. In yet another strange reversal, 
   going into this house was like leaving a full color outside
   world and into an Oz-like black and white interior. Check that,
   white mostly
       Suddenly, with a shattering slap to her consciousness, Celia 
   saw behind the curtain. There was a whole lot of white. White
   carpet, white Venus d’ Milo, white furniture etc. There was a 
   small shrine to Saint Ursula with fresh flowers and scented 
   candles and there was a larger shrine to Connie Francis with fresh
   flowers and scented candles surrounding an album cover signed,
                                  “From Connie 
                                                  to Mary”.
 “Mary”.
     “Sit, ahh, an wipe ya feet! I just shampooed that carpet. Mike,
   you step off that mat I’ll cut ya fuggin heart out”
      With Mike’s prodigious paw around most of her neck, 
   obedience came easily but he did let go, she did wipe her feet 
    and he did stay on the welcome mat.
      “Okay Clavin, you will tell us who you are with an’ who you’re
   workin’ for or you will be goin tru da wood chipper. Clear?”
   Mary pronounced pacing slightly with her arms crossed.
      “The Network” Celia answered drinking in every second of this
   cinematic moment.
      “Who’s at? Some new Jersey family? Are you wit’ Mendel
   Pannetone? Tell me, c’mon. We should’a shmeared that kosher 
   salami before we left Mike, when we still had FBI protection” 
   she finished, speaking to Mike.
      “I wanted to do it Mary but Phil said he was tryin’ to get us a 
   spot in da Virgin Islands. Did’n wanna piss off da Feds.”
      “Yeah, fuggin’ idiot. Fuggin’ Feds. Fuggin’ Mendel. Fuggin
   Network? Who the fuck is the Network? Colombians?”
      “Nope”, Celia shook her head.
       “Who den?” Mary demanded.
       “T.V.”
       “T.V.?”
        “Network T.V.”
       “Mike! Go warm up the wood chipper and not to close ta da
    house. You’ll bring every crow in the county.” Mike dutifully 
     left the house.
       “I’m tellin’ ya da trut. I’m like ahhh, location scout for 
    Network TV. My mutha sent me out heah and I got no fuggin 
    idea who you are.”
      “T.V.?” Mary akst.
      “Yeah, T.V.” Celia answered.
      “How’s home ?” Mary inquired in a changed tone.
      “San Genaro is wall to wall tourists and Arthur Ave is all
    Albanese. And the mayor, oye, don’t get me started.” Celia 
    heard Mike trying to chain start the wood chipper.
       “Fuggin Albanese” Mary lit a cigarette.
        A large man in farming sort of clothes burst in the door 
    carrying a baseball bat and went for Celia. Now, unlike before
    Celia was truly scared. Mary screamed !
      “Ya walkin on my carpet ya fuggin moron! I just shampooed 
    that carpet ! What’s ya problem?! Mary was irate.
       “Aw jeez Mary, I’m sorry, I’ll take her out back n’ cave her 
     head in.” Phil was contrite.
       “It’s okay, Phil Celia, Celia Phil. Celia’s with some TV show 
  or something. They wanna shoot a soap in Ardensville or
  something like that. That about right Cel?”
     “Yeah, bout right” Celia was breathing again. “What are you 
  guys doin’ out here?”
     “The Feds are hidin us. Phil ova heah decided to drop a dime 
   on some of our business associates back in Brooklyn. Our kids 
   are okay, out of the business, so we went on a long vacation.
   The boys make salami n’ cheese like when they were kids and 
   the wives we got a hair and nail salon which don’t do too much
   business but it’s okay. Kinda like home only no family, no track,
   no Broadway, no trips to Vegas and no restaurants.”
   Mary lamented.
    “The food at that café is pretty damn good I’d say” Celia piped in.
     “The good thing, out here is, there’s no freakin’ opera.
   Too much Christian radio but no opera thank God.”
      “Aye la Donna Mobile! Marone, Babby can cook but she thinks
   we’re Mexicans so when we come in we always get mole’ which
   I’ve grown to like but I wish she would make some pasta faggiolle
   sometime.” Phil lamented.
      Mike came back in, and staying on the welcome mat explained
   the chipper was low on gas so he needed to get started if that was
   alright. He also had biscotti in the oven and needed to get back to
   the store.
     “Fagetta bout it Mike, I think we’ll keep’er. Go on back. Phil’l
   drive us back in a lil’ and take off that apron if you’re driving my
   car”
      “Yeah sure Mary.” Mike smiled, waved, said ciao and left. He
   turned off the chipper before pulling away.
      “How about a Cinzano Celia?” Phil proposed not really waiting
   for an answer.
     “How do you get good booze out here?” Celia asked now
   cruising the remarkable collection of photos on the fire place
  mantle. 
     “The Feds take care of us pretty good. Good liquor, good cigars,
   sometimes fresh fish but what we really need is a good opera
   company!” Phil handed around the Cinzanos with ice. 
      “We’re in the west ya fuggin moron. There’s no god damn
   opera . Horses, soybeans and flat. No opera fa chrise sake!”
     “Cent’ann” Celia toasted.
     “Glad to hear it, Cent’ann” Phil repeated.
     “ Cent’ann” Mary concurred. “And please Saint Ursula, 
                                                                let it be in Brooklyn!”
      “So no one out here knows who you are?” asked Celia twirling
   her ice.
      “Nope” answered Mary, “They think we’re Mexicans. We’re
   polite, they’re polite, everybody’s polite, we mind our business,
  they mind their’s and that’s it. Fuggin yahoos in overalls.” 
      “Well then how come everybody knows my business?”
      “Oh yeah”, Phil remembered, “how’s it goin at Irma’s? She’s 
   good people, don fahgget’t.”
      “Yeah , like that.” Celia rolled her eyes and drained her
    beverage.
     “Tsa small town sistah, get used to it, you betcha” Mary drained hers and winked.