“The Adventures of M. Patient” Chapter Seven

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…”

M. giggled.

“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.

~J.L. Cordova

“The Adventures of M. Patient” Chapter Six

“Oh M.!” Lucy gasped as they sat by the riverbank.

With their lace-ups off and their feet wading in the shallow river water, the two girls walked along the sand strip. M. had just told Lucy all about the night before, and also about that morning. Genevieve had her horrible outburst with M. that morning. Her grandmother had also punished her with no dessert and no after school projects or events for an entire month.

“Wasn’t it awful to watch, M?” Lucy questioned considerately.

“Well it’s not my fault that the violinist plays with his eyes closed,” M retorted, thinking mainly about the flustered violinist that had started it all. “Besides, look at the bright side: since that Alexander was there, and saw how much of a horrid creature I was, he might not marry Genevieve after all!”

This delighted M very much.

“But M.,” Lucy persisted. “Why’d you do it?”

M. was tired of explaining this, but she was passionate about it, so she did not hesitate to reiterate.

“I could not stand to hear Mrs. Bolton talk about Ella that way! Ella is the best maid in the world! Mrs. Bolton doesn’t know anything about her! Why was she so…so… Why did she hate her so much? Ella has never done anything to her!”

Lucy shrugged. “I don’t know,” she confessed.

“I mean, if it was an old family feud or something…”

“Like Romeo and Juliet?” Lucy suggested.

“Yes!” M. exclaimed. She stopped for a moment, “…except there isn’t a Romeo—just two Juliets.”

“But I don’t think there is an argument between them…” Lucy commented.

“Precisely my point!” M. cried.

“And remember that one time you and I walked from your house to the Christmas play?” Lucy said in realization. “Ella escorted us there. She said she couldn’t come in with us, but that she would pick us up. And Christopher was there at the front when we arrived—” M. scowled “—and he began making fun of Ella?” Lucy finished. “Do you remember that, M.?”

“I do!” M. replied, suddenly remembering. “So it’s not just Mrs. Bolton…it’s Christopher and Alexander too!”

“Alexander too?” Lucy questioned, her eyes wide.

“Yes,” M. announced. “That was when Grandmama told him about Ella going to college.”

(She had told Lucy all the goings-on previously, and Lucy had a hard time keeping up with all that was said).

Lucy was silent for a time. They were both in deep thought.

“You don’t think…” she began slowly. “It could be because…we have whiter skin…”

“Why in the world would that be a reason?” M. retorted.

“Well, Ella is the only maid in your house that is darker than everybody else. The Boltons’ don’t have any maids like her. And both of our families do.”

M. remembered one of the Perkins’ maids, Prissy. She was shorter and stouter than Ella, but she was cheerful and outgoing. She was a wonderful maid, as she helped in the kitchen. When Lucy and M. would ask for a snack, she would find something for them to eat. Ella and Prissy knew each other well, though they rarely saw each other. For some reason, they never really tried to see each other.

One time Lucy and M. tried to get them in the same place so they could see each other (since M. thought they must have missed each other terribly). With Lucy telling Prissy there was an emergency, and with M. telling Ella the same, both maids came out onto the lawn. But when they found out it was all a scheme, they scolded the girls, hardly looked at each other in their realization and recovery, and hurried back into the houses.

“Now Miss Miranda don’t you go tellin’ stories on me,” Ella had said later that day when M. asked about it. “You knew it was down-right wrong to tell me you was in some sort of trouble, when you wasn’t. Don’t you go doin’ that, unda-stand?”

“But Ella—” M. had tried.

“I ain’t gonna listen anymore now, you hear?” And that was that.

Lucy reported almost the same exact thing.

“I ain’t one to be tampered with, Lucy Perkins!” Prissy declared in her shrill voice, stirring the stew on the stove. “You knows I gots too much on my hands in this here kitchen—too much at least without you goin’ on tellin’ me you’s in trouble!”

It was confusing say the least. But M. had never asked her grandmother. She never thought it would come to something like this—Mrs. Bolton bringing tears to dear Ella’s eyes. M. was infuriated just thinking about it! Ella had always been there for her to get her out of trouble. She was like another mother…since her real one was gone. Her grandmother was always wonderful and loving, and M. loved her dearly. But…but Ella was special. Ella was like her best friend, even though she was so many years older! She had known her all her life. Ella took care of her in her grandmother’s house even when M. first came to live there. Genevieve too—Ella had taken care of Genevieve. Now, it seemed like M. was the only one who remembered this. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew that she could never live without Ella. M. was so thankful for her, and she couldn’t stand Mrs. Bolton speaking about her like that.

But the real question was: Why did Mrs. Bolton not like Ella? And why did Ella have such a knowing look on her face when she put M. to bed last night? Why weren’t Prissy and Ella ever together? And why did would no one tell them?

I suppose that was more than one real question. But it was all the same to the girls.

~J.L. Cordova

“The Adventures of M. Patient” Chapter Five

M. instantly backed away from the door. But it was only Thompson. He took no notice of her, though. Through the glass, M. could see him lift a wine bottle in the air from a small table. Everyone watched as he popped the cork out of the top, and they all cheered. Wine glasses began to be filled, and the noisy chatter continued.

Gradually, they all began speaking together and not individually. It was after Alexander stood up and quieted everyone.

“Mr. and Mrs. Perkins,” he began, smiling at Lucy’s parents, “Mr. and Mrs. Terrance,” he smiled at the Terrances. “The wonderful Ms. Theodora Patient has given me permission to announce…something very important.”

M. glanced at her grandmother, who looked on with some sense of pride.

Alexander paused with his glass in the air. He looked back and took Genevieve’s hand. Genevieve looked as though she would bust with excitement.

“Tonight,” he continued. “I have the honor and the privilege to say, that Miss Genevieve Patient has accepted my proposal of marriage.”

M.’s jaw dropped. There was a wave of excited commotion that rushed through the dining room.

“And we will be married next spring!” Alexander finished over all of the excited gasps and enthusiastic remarks. “And it could not seem any farther away.” He squeezed Genevieve’s hand. M. rolled her eyes.

Mr. Terrance stood up with his wine glass. “To Alexander, and the future Mrs. Bolton!” he said.

There was a mix of “To Alexander and Genevieve!” and “The future Mrs. Bolton!” and things like that as they all clanked their wine glasses and drank. Mr. Terrance and Alexander sat down again, his hand still wrapped around Genevieve’s.

M. was outraged and utterly shocked. “Alexander Bolton!” she raged silently, “marrying Genevieve? He can’t marry her! He’s so arrogant!”

“Tell me, Alexander,” Mrs. Terrance asked, with a genial smile. “What school are you attending?”

“I am finishing my last year at Harvard,” Alexander replied.

“Really? Such a marvelous school—my brother went there,” said Mrs. Terrance.

“Did he?” Alexander asked, intrigued. “What did he study?”

“Well,” she smiled. “He had a fondness for famous composers and the classics. He greatly enjoys the music school there.”

“Fascinating!” Alexander exclaimed. M. somehow found it hard to believe that he thought it was.

“What are you studying, Alexander?” Mr. Perkins asked.

“Business,” Alexander answered, “—marketing and sales. I cannot say it is the simplest class.” Everyone laughed.

“Do you enjoy it?” Mr. Perkins asked again.

“I do,” Alexander replied. “It enthralls me, really. I—”

“I forget,” Mrs. Bolton suddenly interrupted. M. was sure that it was unintentional, since she always did things like that. Her pompous air always frustrated M. and, she was sure, her grandmother as well. “Is Harvard a segregated school?”

“Oh Mother they would never allow former slaves to attend one of the best universities in the nation,” Alexander remarked casually. “What would this world come to?” he added, smiling as if cracking a joke. Genevieve giggled. And this encouraged him to continue. “Surely they are not in great need of education. You don’t even need a degree for a servant’s job.”

Genevieve was the only one who laughed at this, aside from Mrs. Bolton. M.’s grandmother was quite grave as she dabbed her mouth with her napkin, for the salads had been previously brought out.

“One of my servant girls has attended college,” she said firmly, not looking at anyone. “Her father fought for his civil rights.”

You could literally hear a pin drop if anyone had dared to drop one. The Perkins and Terrances seemed content at this remark. Mrs. Bolton looked stunned, as did Alexander amidst his sudden embarrassment. Genevieve looked quite perturbed that her grandmother had said such a thing. Because of her fiancé, she had grown to strongly share the opinions and beliefs of the Bolton family, which often differed from M.’s grandmother.

“Ella?” Genevieve suddenly blurted out, disoriented. “Ella went to college?”

Alexander smiled, trying to make the scene less awkward. “Why, of course, I suppose some—”

“There are many former slaves who seek education, Mr. Bolton,” interrupted M.’s grandmother, her eyes narrowing. “They have every right and privilege as we do. There are some in this world who think that because of the tone of skin, we are much more above them in every aspect. Those who believe that, however, are the ones lower than the common man.”

Grandmama…” Genevieve hissed.

“Surely not all of your staff thinks like you do?” Mrs. Bolton affirmed arrogantly.

“No,” Mrs. Patient replied gravely. “But it is a rule in this house to treat others as equals. And to me, that includes all others.”

“It’s not natural, Theodora!” Mrs. Bolton opposed.

“She’s right!” Genevieve added. “They are so different compared to us—so much lower!”

Anger was boiling up inside M.’s head.

“They are animals,” Mrs. Bolton continued, “—simple creatures that do not deserve the things we do. We are civilized beings with civilized culture and speech. They—” she said it in disgust—“come from the country where they do not have the riches and opportunities that we do. They are no good here. They shouldn’t be allowed to come into our schools, take our jobs, and hardly even live in our houses! They are beasts that only deserve to be at our mercy or to be sent back to their own country—”

M. had heard enough. She burst through the door, stamped her foot and shouted, “Don’t talk about Ella like that!”

No sooner had she said this, the violinist made a sudden jolt from surprise, thrusting his bow into the pianist’s forehead. Clutching his head, the music stopped as he toppled off the piano bench in front of the kitchen door. Thompson entered through the door with a cheerful smile, carrying a platter of re-filled wine glasses. Tripping over the wind-blown pianist, the wine splattered all around the room. Glass shattered. Thompson tumbled to the ground.

It had become moderately quiet when the pianist had fallen. Now, it had become completely silent. Thompson began to rise, but Britta opened the kitchen door and began to enter, carrying the large cream pie. She backed out of the kitchen, chatting with Mrs. Anntrove. As she turned around, she too fell on top of Thompson and the unfortunate pianist. They were all quite upset and bewildered.

Britta had let go of the cream pie, and it soared through the air, landing right in Alexander’s face. His face was smothered in thick whipped cream and filling when he returned the pie to the table. Globs of whipped cream also fell on Genevieve and her pretty dress. The dog, which lived a solitary life in the tall house, (that was when M. did not visit him), instantly jumped up onto the table and licked the whipped cream off of his face. The food, plates, and goblets were scattered everywhere. And no one said a word.

M. watched with wide eyes and utter shock, yet her stubborn glare did not leave her. She was still angry with the Boltons for talking about Ella the way they had. Alexander and Genevieve were a complete mess, as were the Terrances, who had most of the spilled wine all over them. Genevieve spotted M. but did not say a word, for she was staggered and fuming beyond words. With the room in complete silence, and with all eyes on her, she stamped her foot again and continued, glaring crossly at Mrs. Bolton.

Ella is the most fantastic maid we have!” she screamed. “Don’t talk about her like that—she’s a better maid than you could ever be! She’s pretty and kind, and she does more work than any other maid we have! And she’s my friend, if anything else! She is not an animal! She is not a beast! She’s the most wonderful person in the world! You’re the one that does not deserve anything you have—you, and Alexander, and Christopher! You only think for yourselves!”

“M.!!!” Genevieve finally got out.

She seemed as if she would pounce on M. at any moment. Her eyes nearly filled with tears as she tried to think of something strict to say. But M. simply glared right back. But Genevieve’s low demand nearly chilled her as she ordered through clenched teeth, “Go upstairs.”

“I won’t!” M. shrieked. Her nosed itched and began to hurt. No, she would not cry. This was too far for Mrs. Bolton. “I won’t!” she repeated.

“Miranda,” her grandmother said. Her voice was severely grave and firm. This really did give M. chills up her spine, for she could tell her grandmother was very angry. Realizing the narrowness and horror of her eyes, M. somehow lost her stubborn glare she had been so proud of.

“Go upstairs to bed,” she said. And M. had no choice and no willingness but to obey.

She dashed away from the door before anyone could tell her twice. In the parlor, away from the dining room, her pace slowed. She reached the stairs, and a familiar small hand caught her arm, pulling her along faster. It was Ella.

“Ella!” M. cried out again. She was so relieved to see her. “You didn’t hear all those things Mrs. Bolton said, did you?”

“Now you best quit hollerin’ so much, Miss Miranda, or you’ll be gettin’ into more trouble,” Ella said softly but sternly. She held M.’s arm fast as she half dragged her up the long stairway. There was much commotion in the dining room, but M. did not want to listen to it. She felt guilty but proud at the same time.

She noticed Ella’s face. There were tears hidden in her eyes. Though her face was firm as she hurried M. up the stairs, it was sad too. M. began to panic.

“Ella she said horrible things about you! I didn’t know what to do! You’re my favorite person in the world—I wouldn’t let her say those things!”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Ella said hastily. Her voice was choked. They reached the top of the stairs. Entering into M.’s darkened bedroom, M. jumped into bed and let Ella pull the covers over her. M. attempted in a softer voice.

“Ella…” she started. “Grandmama wouldn’t have let Mrs. Bolton get away with saying all those mean things, would she?”

“Of course not, Miss Miranda,” Ella said, still quietly. “But now you know better than to go snappin’ at Mrs. Bolton like a wild child. I declare I never seen you do such a thing. Now you know your grandmutha’ ain’t gonna forget this in the mornin’.”

“I know,” M. muttered.

“Goodnight, Miss Miranda,” Ella stated.

Before she left the room, M. sat up again. “Ella?”

Ella turned, impatiently, but still good-naturedly.

“Ella…she didn’t hurt you did she?” M. asked with her eyes wide and curious.

The maid paused. She looked away. She didn’t answer.

“Goodnight now, Miss Miranda.”

M. saw a tear falling down her cheek as she closed the door.

~J.L. Cordova

“The Adventures of M. Patient” Chapter Four

M’s grandmother had, indeed, invited Christopher’s parents; but no, Christopher would not be attending, nor would any children of M.’s age.

“But why?” M. protested to Genevieve.

She was watching her older cousin pick out her dress for that evening. Genevieve was standing in front of her tall mirror holding a dress in front of her—a green silk dress with white frills and a pink sash.

She replied coolly, “Oh, M., you know Grandmama has her annual dinner parties with just grown-ups. There are times she invites your little friends”—M. scrunched up her face. She had only Lucy in mind, but she continued to listen—“but tonight she has only invited her mature neighbors to dinner.”

“Lucy is mature…” M. murmured.

“No she isn’t,” Genevieve contradicted. “You are both still little girls.” She finally put the green dress on the bed and pulled out her deep purple gown.

M. scowled. “Why do you get to join them?”

“Because Grandmama says I may be counted as a full grown woman.”

“You’re not even eighteen yet!” M. pointed out.

“Not yet, but I will be next month,” she said, throwing the dress aside and pulling out the blue one instead.

“I’ll bet it will be perfectly boring,” M remarked.

“Not especially,” Genevieve answered, rummaging through her closet again. “I think I will find it perfectly radiant.”

M. knew why she was so excited. She had heard her grandmother tell Thompson, the butler, that there would be a special guest of honor that evening. And this “guest of honor” was Alexander Bolton—yes, Bolton. He was Christopher’s older brother. He was also Genevieve’s new beau. M. was not exactly ecstatic about them being together, but she could do nothing about it. Alexander was a friendly and genteel suitor, as far as she could tell. And her grandmother seemed to like him too.

M. would have been glad to tease Genevieve at that moment, but she was sure the news of it would somehow make its way to her grandmother.

“But what will I be doing the whole time?” M questioned. Genevieve was now looking through her necklaces in her vanity drawer.

She answered, “You will be in bed while the guests are over.”

M. gaped. “I can’t even say ‘hello’ to anyone?”

“Of course not! This is a formal dinner party, and you will take no part of it.”

And that was exactly what happened. M.’s grandmother sent her to bed at 7:30. (She had told Britta, of all people, to see her promptly to her room). Minutes after she had been in bed, M. could hear people chatting and laughing together. Pretty soon, she heard a piano being played along with a musical violin and cello along with it.

The talking was even louder than the music. Though M.’s bedroom was on the upper level of the house, she could still hear the laughter and conversation, the clanking of plates and dishes, and hustle in the kitchen and dining room—as if they were right next door! She heard Alexander’s deep, charming voice along with Genevieve’s girly laugh. M. rolled her eyes.

As far as she knew, Alexander was a gentleman and a charmer. Yet he was quite arrogant and proud, like Genevieve. They were perfect for each other. The reason M. had not taken a fondness to him yet was because she was bias against Christopher. Annoying as he was, was she meant to actually get along with him one day? If Genevieve and Alexander were to marry…no, she wouldn’t think about it. It was too insufferable.

“Well, they’ll go away soon, she thought. Then it will be peaceful and quiet, and then maybe I’ll get some sleep.”

A long, eternal hour passed, (in our time, five minutes). Suddenly, she sat up straight in bed. Her room was completely dark, save the light that shown below the door. “What if they never leave?” M thought, horrified. “What if they stay here forever and ever and I never get any sleep as long as I live!? What if the night keeps going on and on and I never have another peaceful moment! I’ll be stuck up here listening to them talk and laugh and make a terrible racket for the rest of my life!”

This troubled M. immensely, for though she was not tired, she figured she would have to go to sleep sooner or later. As quickly as the thought came, it left. Now she became curious about what was going on downstairs. What were they talking about, she thought? Who all was downstairs? What were they eating?

She couldn’t wait another instant. She threw off her covers and snuck outside of her room. She didn’t see Britta in any of the upstairs’ halls. They must have been all downstairs helping with dinner. Well, if she couldn’t sleep, she could at least go and see what fun and excitement she was missing out on.

M. tiptoed down the long hallway to the wooden banister above the right stairway. The soft rug felt good under her bare feet. Her nightgown was silent as she took her steps. She looked down: no one was in the parlor, so she, as usual when her grandmother was not watching, slid down the stair rail on her stomach. Slowing to a stop, she felt for the bottom step, let go of the rail, and fell on the stairs with a thud.

Thankfully no one had seen it. It was quite shocking to suddenly end up on your bottom on a hard wood floor.

Scrambling to her feet, M. passed through the fancy parlor and arrived at the dining room door. She peered in from the glass windows of the doors. All of the housing staff rushed in and out of the kitchen door, except for Mrs. Anntrove of course. Some came with platters and left with empty pitchers. Thompson stood with appetizers near the head of the table.

“Appetizers?!” M. discovered. “They haven’t even begun to eat? This will be a long night.”

Seated at the dining table, M. saw her grandmother, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, Mr. and Mrs. Terrance, (an elderly couple of which the Patients had known for a while), Mrs. Bolton with Alexander, and Genevieve. Genevieve and Alexander were sitting quite close to one another, as they spoke to each other the most often.

Alexander had his brown hair slicked back in the latest style of that day. And he had an annoying start of a mustache right above his lip. His tan suit and orange tie looked freshly clean. He was a couple years older than Genevieve, and they conversed with each other quite enthusiastically. She seemed to blush every time he smiled at her.

Mrs. Bolton was seated beside him. A stubborn widow with her two sons, Mrs. Bolton had a straight, dominant nose and a humorously irritating smile. Her haughty expression and revealing dress was all too familiar. M.’s grandmother seemed quite uncomfortable as Mrs. Bolton fanned all of her perfume into her face.

M.’s grandmother sat at the head of the table, then Mr. and Mrs. Perkins on the other side. Mrs. Perkins was awfully pretty. Her dark smooth hair and gorgeous and sociable blue eyes shined, as she her musical laugh came from her stunning smile. Her husband, Lucy’s father, was tall and handsome. He had dashing blonde hair with a perfectly curved nose. His deep, booming voice was quite good-natured and intriguing. Lastly, Mr. and Mrs. Terrance were at the end of the table. Mr. Terrance was a bigger man with thinning gray hair. He had a lumpy nose with sunken in eyes, but he was quite the gentleman, as M. knew well. Mrs. Terrance was pretty, though old. Her hair was in a beautiful braided bun, and she had an elaborate dress of scarlet with gold paisley. Her gold necklace shined in the light of the chandelier.

Near the dining table, a wonderful pianist, violinist, and cellist were on an elevated platform playing a melodic tune. They all had marvelous suits on, and they had calmed, passionate expressions as they played.

No one seemed to notice M. in the glass of the dining room door windows, peeking in. The kitchen door was on the other side, and that was where all the hustle was. Yet M.’s presence was unknown, and she liked it very much. M. put her ear to the door rather than look through the glass.

Suddenly something pushed on the door.

~J.L. Cordova

“The Adventures of M. Patient” Chapter Three

At her severe misfortune, M.’s school desk was in the front of the classroom.

“Miss Patient,” Ms. Watson declared. M. instantly stopped whispering to Lucy, who’s desk was right beside hers.

“You seem eager to talk,” Ms. Watson said strictly. “We will start with you. Please come up to the front of the classroom. You will all read one of your essays for the class, and just turn in the other two and I will grade them. Miranda?” she glanced at M. once again.

M. got up with one of her essays. She had never liked speaking in front of the entire class. The sullen faces and dreary walls made it very difficult. Also, she had only written her essays last night, so she was not quite sure if all the grammar and commas were correct.

“Which one of your essays are you going to read to us?” Ms. Watson asked. She was a kind and loving teacher, but her strictness covered this up most of the time.

“The—ah—one on Lewis and Clark?” M. had just looked down to see which one she had absent-mindedly picked up.

“Very well,” Ms. Watson replied. “You may start whenever you like.”

Let us just say, in fairness to M., dinner was held very late the night before. And she had dressed for bed and everything like that before she had written her essays. By that time, it was quite late, and she was yawning herself silly. In addition, M. always got nervous when she spoke in front of people, so her hands shook before she even stood before the class. And looking around and tensing up made everything look quite fuzzy and hard to read.

The oral essay to the class did not go over well.

But, as she always did, Ms. Watson gave her a “job well done” smile and silently urged the class to clap and not laugh, as they had been doing. M. sat down at the end of it feeling quite confused and humiliated. She did not really listen to the others give their recitations.

At the end of class, M. turned in her other two essays. Knowing that she had no time to go back and change any other silly remarks or stories she had put in there, she dreaded it entirely. Ms. Watson accepted it easily, and M. walked out of the classroom.

She and Lucy walked home from school side by side that day. Their neighborhood was not a mile from the school house in town square. The further they walked along the sidewalk, the more the busy streets with cars and open stores turned into peaceful parks and shady sidewalks. M. and Lucy wore their school dresses that day. M.’s was crimson and Lucy’s was blue, both with white frocks. M.’s lace-ups were not as comfortable as she would have liked, but she must not loosen them until she got home, for her grandmother would disapprove.

With their books wrapped securely in their arms, they spoke of things that only interested them, as usual. They gradually passed the park. Boys were playing ball in the grassy field, and there were girls laughing, talking, and tossing coins by the water fountain in the center. Little children played on the seesaw and roundabout. Women were sitting serenely on benches reading books, and dogs were being walked by gentlemen and ladies in their usual attire.

Slowly but surely, the noise of the village square was dying out. Lucy, once again, brought school into the subject.

“M.,” she said. “How long did you spend on that essay last night?”

Please, Lucy, must we talk about school?” she inquired quickly, really hating the subject even more than the day before.

“But M.!”

“Not long,” M. said punctually, “maybe ten minutes.”

“That’s it?” Lucy gaped.

“Not everyone spends as much time as you, Lucy,” M. remarked jocularly, glancing at Lucy with mischievous eyes.

“I didn’t mean that,” Lucy said. “No wonder you made up a story—it must have been in the middle of the night.

“I didn’t make it up!” M. objected. “I heard it and its true!”

I will back up for you, dear reader. You see, the night before, M. had remembered a story that Mr. Jenkins (the lighthouse man) had told her once. He usually came to sell fish to Mrs. Anntrove, the cook. While he was waiting to be paid one time, M. appeared and began to talk to him. Mr. Jenkins told her the most wonderful story—or legend, so he called it, but she figured it was the same thing. Mr. Jenkins told her that when Lewis and Clark returned to President Jefferson after their expedition to the Pacific Ocean, they brought him loads of treasures. Not only had they brought back small animals, plants, and other souvenirs, but they had also had gold and real treasures they had taken from Indian tribes.

After President Jefferson saw these, he figured that if anyone was to know that Lewis and Clark stole from the Indians, word would spread and the Indian tribes would try and make war. So the president ordered Lewis and Clark to find a safe place to hide the treasure so that none of the Indian tribes would find out about it. And some say that it was in a cave on a sliver of land, uninhabited.

“M. it’s just a story!” Lucy stated. “Mr. Jenkins doesn’t know if it’s true either.”

“But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting,” M. remarked.

“But our essays were supposed to be about Lewis and Clark—your whole essay was on buried treasure!”

M. had to think about this for a moment.

“Oh,” was all she got out.

She stopped, and so did Lucy. There was a worm on a barbed hook being lowered from the tree in front of them. Both of the girls gasped, for the worm was wriggling. They took a step back in fright as they continued to scream. The tree gave an annoying laugh. The girls stopped screaming as a short boy with red hair and freckles jumped out of the branches. He picked up his fishing wire and worm with a mischievous grin.

“Christopher Bolton!” M exclaimed, quite aggravated. “Don’t go scaring people like that—you’ll hurt somebody! That worm nearly dropped on our heads!”

“That was my intension,” Christopher said carelessly.

“Why?”

“Because.”

Nothing more was said for a long while, as M. and Christopher glared childishly at each other. Suddenly, the red-head sprang forward and grabbed M.’s poetry book. Smirking, he took off down the block, laughing.

“Come on, Lucy!” M. called, already running forward.

“Oh M.!” Lucy said. “We can’t run in our school dresses!”

“Bother the dresses! We must get my book back!”

The two girls ran after Christopher but could not stop him. They must have run several blocks, because M. was tired of running. She disliked this young boy with a deep passion. He was always playing pranks and poking fun at whoever he liked and when he liked, especially with her and Lucy. Perhaps because they were prim and proper girls, he found it more fun. He was a year or two younger than them, and M. had never been allowed to push him or do anything else like that in her defense. Her grandmother always said that ladies “turn the other cheek”. To M., that meant that she just meant she couldn’t seek much-deserved revenge. His mother did not like M. or her family very much, and M. didn’t know why. In any case, Christopher Bolton teased her whenever he liked.

At last, Christopher stopped at his front gate and threw the book behind him. It sailed over the girls’ heads and crashed by the curb. Lucy ran back to grab it.

M. glared at him, pinching her face up as much as she could. “Christopher Bolton,” she started. She tried to come up with a horrible thing to say, though the only thing that could come up with was,

“I’m getting impatient with you!”

“As usual,” Christopher mumbled.

“I’ll tell your mother on you!”

Christopher snickered. “No you won’t! Not if I tell your grandmother you got your shoes dirty again!”

M. ignored him. “If you don’t go away right now, I’ll—I’ll…I’ll hit you on the head with this book!” She grabbed it from Lucy and waved it in threat.

“M.!” Lucy exclaimed in horror.

“Well I will,” M replied. “Very hard too!”

“Not if I’m out of your reach!” Christopher called, and laughing, he dashed up the steps and into the front door of his house.

“You baby!” M. yelled, hoping he could hear. “Chicken!”

“M. stop it!” Lucy tried to hush her. “He’s just like that. Ignore him.”

And M. tried, but not very hard. Then they looked beside them. They stood outside the Perkins’ yard.

“Well at least he’s growing to be some gentleman. He walked us home.” M. said, sort of annoyed that there was a positive fact about her snotty neighbor.

“M.,” Lucy said, avoiding the subject. “Do you think Mrs. Anntrove would let us have something to eat? I’m awfully hungry.”

“Probably not,” M. answered regrettably. “She was busy with the dinner party preparations yesterday. No doubt she hadn’t had a rest today. She would probably just tell us to run along and play.”

She paused, glaring at Christopher’s house. “Oh I do hope Grandmother didn’t invite the Boltons to this dinner party!”

~J.L. Cordova

“The Adventures of M. Patient” Chapter Two

As most children do, M. forgot her troubles as quickly as she discovered them. Since she would be scolded about her shoes inside the house, she ventured outside again. Walking across the lawn under the shade of the tall oaks that grew near the driveway, she made her way toward the tall hedge which separated her house from next door. The towering house behind her cast a shadow on the lawn, for it was nearing the evening. M. tried to wipe her shoes off on the grass, but it didn’t do much good. She crossed the stone path through the gardens and opened and closed the picket fence. The hedge was just ahead of her. And she heard Lucy Perkins on her tree swing.

Lucy and M. were the best of friends. They lived right next door to each other. The two of them thought alike, and they did everything together. Lucy had come there with her family from Georgia. She had the distinct southern accent to prove it. Up here, in Mount Rivers, Lucy said it was much cooler and much prettier. M. was glad she liked it here, because she had grown quite fond of Lucy as soon as she and her parents moved next door to her.

The neighborhood they lived in was exceptionally old. The tall, ornate Victorian houses stood nearly a quarter mile apart, since they all had room outside for gardens and green lawns. The neighborhood swarmed with tall, shady trees, and the clean roads were lined with solitary lamp posts. Since the houses were so far apart, it was awfully big, and M. sometimes wondered if she knew how far it went on for. The street which she and Lucy lived on was backed against the riverbank, shaded by the ancient oaks.

M. ran along the hedge on her side of the lawn. Lucy’s tree swing was down by the river bend, which was behind both of their houses. The river looked particularly beautiful today. Running down to the bend, she crossed into the Perkins’ lawn.

Lucy had a green dress on with pink bows on the shoulders. Her light brown hair was pulled back in dreadlock pigtails, tied off with pink ribbons. She always looked much nicer than M., whose frock was always stained in something she had gotten into. And her dull dark brown hair lay flat on her shoulders. Even when she tried to tie it back in a purple ribbon, it never looked pretty like Lucy’s.

But Lucy had never cared. They both loved each other dearly, without paying attention to their dressing differences. Lucy recognized M. as she slowed the swing to a stop. It was a wooden slab with two ropes tying it to the high branches in the tree.

M. and Lucy embraced each other, sat together near the river, and talked about things that were only interesting to the two. Unfortunately, they are so uninteresting to the common child of that time that I will not even mention the subjects. I will take this time to describe their surroundings.

The surface on which the girls sat on was a grassy ledge which, below it, there came a foot or so of wet sand. As most small beaches, this is where the river began its waters. The river stretched for miles, and one could hardly see the land opposite them. It was a beautiful sight to look at, but the girls had seen and enjoyed it long before this meeting. So they ignored and simply spoke to one another.

“Have you finished your essays for tomorrow?” Lucy asked.

“Must we talk about school?” M. groaned, giggling.

“Well…they’re due tomorrow,” Lucy continued. “I’ve already finished mine.”

M. did not reply.

“Well?” Lucy smiled. “Did you do them or didn’t you?”

“I haven’t started them,” M. said quietly.

“What?” Lucy gasped. “M. you’ll get a horrible grade!”

“I know,” M. stated bluntly, looking away and squinting at the horizon.

“But…” Lucy started, now confused, “don’t you want to get a good grade?”

“Of course I do,” M. replied. “But I did not know what to write about.”

“M.,” Lucy rolled her eyes. “If you would have listened to Ms. Watson, you would know. One was supposed to be on George Washington and the Revolution, another on Lewis and Clark, and the last one on Robert E. Lee.”

“Why would I want to write about someone who wasn’t even fighting on our side?” M. asked, puzzled. “It doesn’t make any sense. If I’m going to write about the accomplishments of someone, shouldn’t it be someone whose accomplishments should be mentioned?”

“M.!” Lucy interrupted. M. forgot.

“Sorry, Lu,” she said, remembering that Lucy was from Georgia. “I’m sure he was a gallant soldier.” She stopped there. She didn’t know what else to say.

“It’s alright,” Lucy smiled, and then she laughed. “It doesn’t really matter. I wasn’t born then—I don’t remember him.”

They both laughed. After they settled down (which was quite a long time), Lucy spoke again.

“But anyway, isn’t about what you think you should be writing. We have to turn it in tomorrow!”

“Yes,” M. agreed softly.

“Why haven’t you done it?” Lucy asked.

“I got so tired of sitting there trying to figure out what to write!” M. confessed. “My pencil just sat there—I could not think of anything!”

“Would you like me to help you?” Lucy offered.

“No,” M. replied. She didn’t need help. She could do it by herself. “I’ll do them tonight I suppose.”

All of them?” Lucy gaped.

“I don’t have much of a choice,” M. remarked. This was true. And it was also true that M. had completely forgotten about the essays Lucy had mentioned ever since she had given up trying to write them, which was last week.

“Well…signal to me if you need my help, alright?” Lucy said. M. nodded. They had their own way of signaling to each other. Both girls had gotten a spiffy candle-lit lantern for their birthdays one year. Just like the Old North Tower signaled Paul Revere, M. and Lucy decided that if one need the other, the lantern would be lit in their windows. Unfortunately, they did not each have two lanterns. That would have been amazing.

“One if by land, two if by sea…”

M. didn’t know what they would use the “two if by sea” for. But it interested her nonetheless. See? She enjoyed history; she just did not enjoy writing long essays about it.

She looked out onto the horizon again. They saw the piece of land that lay about five miles from the river bank. It was small, and it had a red and white striped lighthouse on the coast. Mr. Jenkins lived down there. He kept the light burning in the lighthouse, as he lived in the little shack beside it.

“It must be romantic—living alone by the sea like that,” M. dreamily remarked.

“Huh?” Lucy followed her gaze to the lighthouse. “Oh. Yes, I wonder what it’s like to live alone like that. He must get lonely.”

“Perhaps…” M. pondered, “but—”

“MISS MIRANDA!” was suddenly heard from the other side of the hedge.

M. leapt up instantly. “I have to go,” she said. And she hurried back to the lawn on the other side.

It was Britta. Who else would be yelling at her like that? She looked intensely aggravated as she spotted M. dashing across the lawn to the kitchen door.

“What in heaven’s name are you running in that dress for?” she snapped. “Go on upstairs and get dressed for dinner—your grandmother is waiting!”

It took at least five minutes to scrub the dirt off of M.’s lace-ups. She had also slipped on her light blue dress, brushed her hair, and, with the help of Ella, had tied a pink satin ribbon in her hair. As Britta had said, her elderly grandmother was already sitting comfortingly at the dining table. Across from her was her cousin Genevieve, in her nice green dress. Rather awkwardly, M. came in and seated herself in the chair beside her haughty cousin.

The dining room was splendidly elegant. M. saw it every day, so she would not think to tell you anything about it. The long dining room table was decorated with an ornate tablecloth with jeweled paisley. The brilliant centerpiece held delicate artificial flowers with swans perched on the vase, with their wings spread out as if just about to take off. The rest of the room was somewhat empty, aside from massive picture frames with various famous people that M. never took notice of.

M.’s grandmother then called for Rosa, one of the kitchen servers. Thompson, the butler, was also standing at the door. Rosa brought in a lovely platter filled with roast turkey. Thompson arrived with a beautiful array of mashed potatoes and delicately placed vegetables and bread rolls. Rosa stood by with the water pitcher as she filled each glass placed on the table. M. also received a glass of milk.

Thompson came beside M. with a silver platter of turkey. Genevieve served herself first. Very delicately, she placed each slice on her plate, as she made it slide off of the serving fork. She did this about as fast as a snail would, as M. rightly deduced.

“Is she ever going to finish serving herself?” she thought impatiently. “What if she never finishes? What if it takes so long to serve herself, me and Grandmama will both starve! And we’ll never get anything to eat!”

Her grumbling stomach made it difficult to remain still. She watched her cousin with great perplexity and annoyance.

“Will you hurry up?” she blurted out. She clapped her hand over her mouth.

Genevieve gaped. “The nerve! Grandmama…” She stopped, for her grandmother was already narrowing her eyes.

 “Very well, Miranda,” her grandmother said. Her grandmother turned to the butler as Genevieve finished serving herself, “Thompson, please, do skip Miss Miranda’s share tonight. I am afraid to think that she is not at all hungry.”

Before Thompson could nod, M. burst out, quite frightened by this remark, “Oh no, Grandmama! I—er—I was simply saying…that the food would get cold and positively revolting if she waited too long to eat it.”

Before her grandmother’s eyes could narrow, M. turned to see Thompson lowering the silver platter beside her plate. After M. had hastily and successfully served herself, Thompson snuck a wink at her as he advanced to her grandmother.

Much to her irritation, M. had to wait until everybody was served and everybody had their napkins in their lap, forks in the right place, and so on. Being in a wealthy family was hard getting used to. She didn’t say much at the table, though, because of her mistaken outburst from five minutes ago.

M. ate hastily. She was very hungry.

“Slow down, for heaven sake!” Genevieve snapped softly.

M. scowled and glanced at her grandmother, whose expression she couldn’t exactly read.

“Ladies may only take small bites,” she said as if cued.

M. lowered her fork slowly as she straightened her back.

“Miranda,” her grandmother’s voice deepened.

“Yes?” M. squeaked.

“What were you doing outside today?” she questioned, not looking up from her food.

“I was walking,” M. answered truthfully. “And I went to see Lucy.”

“The Perkins’ girl?” Genevieve asked, with interest on her face. “But are they not from the south?”

“The war’s over, in case you hibernated,” M. shot back. “Her dad wasn’t a slave trader—”

“That’s enough,” their grandmother said sternly as they glared at each other. “Miranda what happened to your shoes?”

M. looked down before her heart stopped. Yes, they looked clean.

“They’re clean,” she remarked.

“I saw them earlier when you were outside. Did you get them dirty?”

“I—” There was no point in arguing this. “Yes ma’am.”

“You know it is not proper for young ladies to soil their clothes,” her grandmother remarked coolly. “I do not want to see your shoes in that state again, nor your dress. Is that clear?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And school is tomorrow, is it not?” her grandmother continued.

“Yes ma’am.”

“And you have all your assignments ready and due to turn in tomorrow?”

M. stopped and lowered her head.

“Well?” her grandmother persisted.

“She has three essays to write,” Genevieve blurted out. “And she hasn’t done any of them. And they’re due tomorrow.”

M. could have said a few things, but for the sake of her grandmother being in the room, she decided not to.

“You will write your essays tonight, Miranda,” her grandmother declared.

“Yes ma’am,” M. said.

~J.L. Cordova

“The Adventures of M. Patient” Chapter One

There was once a girl who lived by the riverside with her grandmother and her older cousin. She had no mother or father, for they had died long before she had grown to understand that. Her mature and arrogant cousin, Genevieve, had a similar fate. And so the two orphans were taken under the care of their wealthy grandmother whom, I must tell you, believed in mature and well-mannered young ladies. That is why she was so proud of her Genevieve, and still working on her Miranda.

And that was the girl’s name, Miranda Patient, (a last name that had been in the family for years). Even still, this young girl did not go by Miranda, but M.—plain and simple M. She chose the nickname for herself because she disliked the fact that it took 0.5 seconds longer to say ‘Miranda’. Why waste that much time, M. thought, when you could just say “M.” and get it over with? “M.” was quite simple, and not to mention not very hard to pronounce at all.

On this particularly sunny day, M. was roaming about the garden behind the tall house that sat near the riverbank. She was pacing along the paths of appealing and sweet flowers, the hedges that were trimmed so precisely. Edwin, the gardener, was in the distance working at his spade in another part of the garden. M’s brown hair flew back in the faint breeze when it decided to come, and her pink, frilly dress fluttered behind her.            The neighborhood was quiet, for the most part. There were seldom faint noises coming from the park, and an occasional automobile riding noisily down the street.  Big, powerful, and overall exciting, the automobiles were extremely loud and gave M.’s grandmother a headache. They had just come out with the newer models a couple years before, so everyone had some getting used to do, M. supposed.

Everything was quite still, and though she had been warned to do otherwise, M. kicked at the dirt with every step she took. She did not like the idea of keeping clean every minute of the day. She was sure that in some way, her lace-ups could be cleaned before she dressed for dinner. But sneaking past her grandmother in the parlor was another matter.

As other times when she walked in the garden, she soon grew tired of seeing flowers and impatient with the cook, Mrs. Anntrove. She was almost sure that the kind lady would offer her a snack while she paced through the garden, (as the cook rarely did, but it didn’t hurt to hope). So M. decided to go and ask for a snack herself.

She slid the glass door open and stepped inside a small sitting area. Thankfully, her grandmother was not there. She took a quick short-cut to the kitchen, which was dreadfully messy. The counters were caked with crumbs or spills. Canisters or packages of foods and ingredients were spread everywhere for who-knows-what. Steam came soaring out of the pots on the stove. And it smelled like cooked vegetables. M. inhaled it with quaint satisfaction.

Out of the pantry came Mrs. Anntrove, the elderly widowed cook. She was a short, stout lady with frazzled red hair and a pinched up freckled face. She had been a cook for M.’s grandmother ever since M. could remember.

Mrs. Anntrove didn’t seem to notice her at first. She had come out with a sack of flour and slammed it on one of the counters. The cook then grabbed a vast bowl from one of the cabinets. She glanced up while mopping her brow. She spotted M. standing in the back doorway.

“Well, come on then,” she said, grabbing for an ingredient sheet. “If it’s what you came in for, the apron’s where it always is.” M. laughed.

“Oh no,” she corrected, smiling. “I was just coming for a snack.”

“Well I’m certainly not giving you one,” Mrs. Anntrove snapped. “That dinner party of your grandmother’s is tomorrow night. Head starts are the only things that can get done around here, and you know that!”

She disappeared in the pantry again. M. shrugged, picked up an apple from a fruit bowl, and skipped out of the doorway.

M. spied her grandmother in the parlor, making slow but sure progress on her sew-ing project. M.’s grandmother was a tall woman with hair between gray and white. Narrow eyes and high expectations, she was a very mature woman. She always sat up straight, as if a wooden board was propped behind her. She never worked too fast or too slowly on any project. She always seemed to get them done no matter what they were. Her long, fancy dress covered her feet as she sat stiffly and serenely on the elaborate sitting chair.

M. glanced down at her lace-ups. Up to the ankle there was dirt that covered up the shiny white surface. Hiding stiffly behind the door of the parlor, she wished desperately that her grandmother would leave her spot. Her grandmother kept her stern eyes fixed on her sewing, and never looked anywhere else. Unfortunately, she did not make a sign of leaving any time soon.

M. had been waiting for a LONG while, (it had only been thirty seconds). She started becoming quite impatient. If she had not been trying to hide, she would have stamped her foot and let out a big “humph”. But she didn’t.

“What if Grandmother never leaves, but stays there forever and ever?” M. thought. “What if I never get this wretched dirt off my shoes? Suppose Grandmother stays there until I HAVE to go into the parlor and let her see them! What if she takes away all my dolls and forbids me to leave my room and go outside as long as I live!”

Thinking this over for a very long time, (fifteen seconds), she decided to not cross the parlor to walk up the main set of stairs, but simply sneak around to the back stairs.           She crept up softly. She passed over the one creaky step near the middle that her grandmother was sure to hear, and then she came to the upstairs hall.

Passing elaborately decorated rooms, she soon came upon one of the guest rooms, where Ella, her favorite maid, was folding laundry. She raced up to the dark-headed, dark-skinned maid in uniform and bust out, “Oh Ella! You must help me find a way to clean them before supper!”

She was pointed to one of her shoes, which was dirtier than the other, so that Ella would take more sympathy than she would the other shoe.

The slender maid in her black and white uniform looked down in shock and disappointment. Her hair was back in a bun that day. And she looked exhausted.

“Miss Miranda! What on earth d’you do with them shoes?” she sighed.

“Oh please help me clean them!” M. pleaded. “Grandmama cannot see them!”

“Now Miss Miranda you know I don’t have no right to go doin’ things behind your grandmama’s back. I gots enough to do without you comin’ in with more mud and whatever else you track’d in here. You was the one that got ‘em dirty. Now you march right upstairs and clean them shoes—”

“Ella please!” M. interrupted.

Ella furrowed her brow with confusion. “What’ch’you so worri’d ‘bout? You can clean, can’t you?”

“But if I do—Grandmama’s sure to notice!” M. stated despairingly.

Ella cracked a smile. “Well.” She turned back to her laundry. “That ain’t my fault. I didn’t go out there and play in no flowerbed.”

“I wasn’t playing in the flowerbed!” M. said defensively.

Ella smiled and softened her voice. “I know,” she said calmly. She sighed and wiped her forehead. M. waited.

“Alright,” she sighed. She put a pair of bloomers down on the couch. “Come on in here,” she nudged M. toward the powder room. “I’ll get you clean’d up—”

“No you won’t!” boomed a voice near the doorway.

M. jumped and turned around. She let out a groan and put on a stubborn face.

Britta, the grumpiest maid in her grandmother’s house, always spoiled everything for her. It was quite irritating, really. Britta was stout. She was the second-to-head maid in the house, (or so she insisted), and she always had her brown hair frizzed up around her head. Her forehead was shiny. She looked tired too. She had a dust feather in one hand and an oiled rag in the other. Her raven black eyes narrowed at Ella, who stood quite still, staring back.

M. looked back and forth—from one to the other. Britta and Ella never got along well. Her grandmother had always said it was prejudice, which was a big word simply pointing out that Britta had skin like she and her grandmother—very fair and light—and Ella had a very dark brown complexion. M. never saw why this would be a problem. Ella was M.’s favorite maid. Britta was ill-tempered anyway. Now, though, Ella seemed to make her even grouchier, for no particular reason.

Britta stepped in the room, still glaring at Ella.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in the bedrooms?” she snapped.

“Mrs. Chester want’d the laundry done first, Ms. Collins,” Ella answered in a solemn tone. (Mrs. Chester was grandmother’s top house cleaner).

“When did she tell you that?” Britta inquired.

“This mornin’,” Ella responded. “She said the bedrooms could wait.”

“Well Mrs. Abilene Chester is out for the afternoon. I am in charge for the rest of the day, and I say the bedrooms have to be done! We’ve got guests coming tomorrow, Ella!”

“They ain’t sleepin’ here, Ms. Collins,” Ella quietly remarked.

“It doesn’t matter!” Britta retorted. “I said get to the bedrooms!”

There was a pause. “Yes ma’am,” Ella pronounced, in a deep voice.

As feared, Britta spun her glaring eyes at M. next.

“And you,” she said between her teeth. “You know good and well that Ella can’t be messing with you. She’s got work to do!”

“But my shoes, Britta!” M. cried. She was now quite scared that she wasn’t going to get help after all.

“I don’t care about your silly shoes! We maids have got other things to worry about. Maybe you should just become a maid and I’ll tell you to do my hair! Now get out of here—we got work to do!”

Grumpy. That was the only word that entered M.’s head.

She walked slowly past Britta towards the doorway. She made her feet drag as her head hung low and innocent-like.

“Go on!” Britta pushed.

M. turned her head and gave a pitiful look to Ella, who returned it, but mentally urged her to do as she was told. Britta was getting impatient now.

“Do you want me to tell your grandmother you’ve been dressing the cats up again?”

M. dashed away as quickly as she could, the apple still in her hand.

~J.L. Cordova