M. left Lucy by the hedge when Mrs. Perkins had called her inside. Left alone, M. spent some of the time in the garden, in the flowery gazebo next to the driveway. With her china doll in her arms, she attempted to read. “Alice in Wonderland” had always intrigued her. Alas, she could hardly keep her eyes on the book. They kept straying somewhere else, as she herself was deep in thought and confusion.
This time passed rather sulkily. Closing her book, she finally decided to venture into the parlor, first checking to see if her lace-ups were clean. They were. She even smoothed out her dress with her hands before she entered for good measure.
Her grandmother and Genevieve were both in the parlor. Genevieve did not even glance at M. when she appeared. Her snotty, scrunched up face looked away in utter frustration and impatience.
Genevieve was pretty. Aside from her frequently arrogant looks and remarks, she was actually quite beautiful. She had long light brown hair like Lucy’s. Her curved nose and outstanding brown eyes made her look like a portrait. M., secretly, had always been envious. But she never told anyone this, for that would imply that she envied her haughtiness and her Alexander. This would be going too far.
She and her grandmother were sewing on the elaborate sofa. Her grandmother was still flustered at M.’s behavior the night before. When M. arrived in the doorway, her grandmother raised her eyes. Seeing M. standing awkwardly at the foot of the rug, she returned her attention to her sewing.
“You may practice your piano if you are unoccupied, Miranda,” she stated expressionlessly.
Though she wished it, M. did not have anything to do. Slowly, she walked across the rug to the piano bench by the large window overlooking the green lawn. Beginning, she tried not to think of Ella and Mrs. Bolton. As the music played, the more her attention was drawn away.
Playing the piano reminded her of the pianist’s accident the night before—how he tumbled off of the platform. M. smiled as she pictured the cream pie in Alexander’s face. Her smile grew into a scowling look when she tried, for the fiftieth time, to get Mrs. Bolton’s sneer out of her head.
Thankfully, distractions occurred. Britta, as aggravated as ever, entered with a large picture frame with an old landscape painting.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” she said to M.’s grandmother, slightly curtsying while out of breath. “Would you like this moved too?”
“Yes, everything must go, except for the necessities,” M.’s grandmother replied. “The bed, the desk, the vanity—those things can stay.”
“Where do we put the rest of it?” Britta asked.
“In the room next door,” she replied. “I will help you sort through it later.”
Britta nodded before Thompson appeared behind her with a water basin.
“Shall I replace the old one, madam?” he inquired in his classic deep voice. “Or shall I leave this in the room?”
“It looks in working shape…” M.’s grandmother thought.
“Well we can get another one can’t we?” Genevieve asked. “It’s sort of old—perhaps Ella would use it when she leaves.”
A wrong note on the piano was not the only thing that caught M. off guard. She stopped playing immediately.
“Ella’s leaving?” she cried, instantly standing up. Her grandmother was silent, and she did not see her expression.
“Of course she’s leaving!” Genevieve snapped. “She’s been with us for long enough.” She turned to Thompson. “Give it to Ella—we’ll replace it.” He bowed and was gone.
“Genevieve!” M. shrieked. Her stomach was doing somersaults. “Why is Ella leaving?”
“We are no longer in need of her,” Genevieve answered simply.
“I am!” M. cried. “Ella can’t leave!”
“Sometimes we have to let go of things, M.,” Genevieve stated, brushing it off as if it wasn’t important. “Grow up—she wasn’t going to be here forever anyway.”
“She’s the closest thing I have to a mother!” M. cried, her eyes hurting because the tears were pushing through.
“But she isn’t your mother, M.!” Genevieve snapped back. “She’s just a maid—a servant girl! Nothing more, if anything she’s less! You deserve much more than her,” she added in disgust. “Besides, not that you care—all you did was defend her last night! You cared nothing for me or for any of the guests! You only cared for a stupid unrefined slave girl!”
M. couldn’t take another word. She dashed out of the room, sobbing as if her eyes would fall out. Her grandmother did not try to stop her.
M. rushed up the stairs as fast as she could. Dodging maids and Thompson in the hallway on the second floor, she hastened to the next staircase, her tearstained face in her hands. Running up the staircase, she slipped and fell. Her knees burned from the carpet but she rose and kept running.
On the third floor, the wooden rafters shook as M. ran across the stable floor. She raced to the end. Ella’s room door was closed. She burst through with a tremendous sob. Ella spun around. Her hair wasn’t in a bun—it was long and pretty at her shoulders. Her wide, surprised eyes were sad and hurt. M. stood there a moment before she threw herself into Ella’s sweet embrace, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Ella!” she gasped. “They said you’re leaving! It’s not true! Tell me it’s not true!”
“There now…” she whispered, stroking M.’s hair.
Ella’s tight hold comforted both of them. M. had always loved Ella’s hugs. They were so warm and understanding. Eventually, M. stopped sobbing so loudly. Ella loosened her grip and they gazed at each other. Ella had knelt down to M.’s height as she wiped the tears from her face.
“You’re—you’re not l-leaving, Ell-la, a-a-are you?” M. stammered in a shaky voice.
“Yes, child,” Ella answered softly, avoiding her eye contact. “I am.”
“But why?” M. nearly demanded. “Why do you have to leave?”
Ella didn’t answer right away.
“Sometimes we…we don’t always stay in the same place, you know.”
“But I want you to stay here!” M. sobbed. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I know,” Ella whispered. “I know.”
M. was not satisfied. Why was Ella and everyone else being so secretive? She had to know why Ella was leaving.
“D-did y-you get a-a job somew-where else?” M. stuttered.
“No,” Ella replied, her face now almost as dejected as M.’s. “I’m a-goin’ back to my hometown in Jackson. I’ll find a job there.”
“W-w-where’s Jackson?” M. inquired.
“Mississippi,” Ella answered.
“That’s too far!” M. sobbed. “I’ll never see you again!”
“Now that ain’t a word of truth,” Ella replied. “‘Never’ is a long time, Miss Miranda—”
“But it is true!” M. persisted. “You can’t leave, Ella! You’re my mother!”
“Oh child…” and she pulled her into another embrace. And when M. next saw her face, tears were in her eyes.
“Why do you want t-t-to leave?” M. asked, almost hurt.
Ella tried to crack a smile. “Oh no, child, I don’t wanna leave. I’d stay here with you ‘till my dyin’ day, I would. I’d take care of you like no other motha’ would.”
“Then why are you leaving?” M. endured.
Ella was quiet once again.
“You…” M. stopped. A thought had just struck her. “You’re…you’re not being… sent away?”
Ella’s face changed in a way that told M. that she had guessed correctly.
“Now Miss Miranda you know betta’ than to go talkin’ to grown-ups disrespectfully like they don’t know what they’s doin’.” Ella grabbed M.’s arm firmly before she disappeared. “Don’t you go accusin’ people, Miss Miranda.” Her tone was strict, and M. refrained from leaving her. She remained in her arms.
“Who’s sending you away?” M. asked.
“Never mind that,” Ella said hastily. She gazed sympathetically into M.’s tearstained face. “Oh,” she forced a sweet smile. “I’s forgot somethin’.”
She rose and approached her open suitcase on her bed. Out of a small bag, she pulled out a ruby necklace—jewels all around it and a gold clasp at the end. It was extravagant. M.’s eyes lit up as she took it out of the bag. Ella brought it back and knelt down to her M.’s height again.
“My mama gave this to me when I was about your age,” she said, holding it out. “She saved up for it, she did, and bought it durin’ the war. I wore it so much she was afraid the rubies would fall right off.” She laughed softly at the thought. M. loved it when Ella’s teeth showed in her smile. It made her feel warm inside. Ella continued, “But…with the job I have, I…I don’t wear no jewelry no more.”
She placed the necklace in M.’s hand. “I want you to have it,” she finished.
M. gaped. “Ella!” She looked down at the shimmering rubies in her palm. It was so elegant and beautiful… “I can’t take this, Ella,” she said bluntly.
“And why on earth not?” Ella smiled.
“It’s too beautiful.”
“Now you go on and take that. I want you to,” Ella insisted. And M. didn’t argue. She loved the necklace very much and, frankly, if Ella was going to leave, she wanted something to remember her by. Her tears returned.
“Now what’s the matta’?” Ella inquired softly.
“You…you sure you want me to take it?” M. stammered, stifling sobs. “You…you’ll want to look pretty at the train station…”
“No, now, you take and keep it,” Ella said, holding M.’s arms again. “It’s me sayin’ how much I love you. I’m off to start over, Miss Miranda”—M. could tell she was trying to convince herself that too—“Im’ma find myself a nice house to live in, with a bedroom and a kitchen so I can make up the most dee-licious gumbo you’ve ever tast’d!”
Her bright, broad smile brought a small one to M.’s face.
“And I’ll have all these nice folks to live ‘round. We’d maybe go over to each other’s houses after work. We’d maybe sit out on the front porch while the crickets come out and the boys play their instruments and we women sittin’ ‘round the fire, chattin’ about sweepin’ floors and burnin’ biscuits…”
“And Im’ma get a nice new job that gets me some money so I can go out and buy pretty things. Maybe I’ll get me a pretty diamond necklace so’s I can wear to church on Sundays. Or’s so I can buy some make-up to cover this here pimple here on my cheek.” She pointed to the small bump near the edge of her face.
M. laughed. “No Ella!” she smiled playfully. “I like it there.”
“Hm? I don’t. Well now maybe I’ll try and give it to you. Here—” She pulled M. close to her as she rubbed their cheeks together. M. squealed with joy as she tried to push away. They both laughed together.
M. loved when Ella talked to her. She felt like she was home again…that home that she never knew, with her mother. She could only imagine what it felt like, since she never knew. But this was such a warm, gracious feeling—this had to be it. This had to be what she had never known. It couldn’t end! If Ella left, it would all go away…M.’s eyes filled with tears again.
“Now Miss Miranda don’t you go start that again,” said Ella.
“Are you really leaving?” M. whispered.
“I’ve gots to, Miss Miranda,” Ella replied.
“Why can’t you stay here and get a job?” M. pleaded.
“They ain’t gonna give me much money here,” Ella admitted. “Down in Jackson I’ll be able to get what I need.”
“I still don’t understand,” M. stated. “Who is sending you away? Why are they sending you away?”
Ella, again, did not answer her. “You best get along downstairs, child. Your grandmotha’ ain’t gonna like you bein’ up here.”
Ella’s sudden solemnity urged M. to approach the doorway. And she left.