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
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;
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.
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
Celia commenced to lean on the house and survey the
This is why people paint landscapes. Huh.
She heard steps and stood erect. Penny appeared through the
“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
“Someday, when I grow up, I hope to dress myself. And yes,
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
“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
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
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……”
“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
“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.
“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
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
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
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,
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
“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
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,
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,
“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
“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.
“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.”
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“Tsa small town sistah, get used to it, you betcha” Mary drained hers and winked.