Wednesday, February 8, 2012

M&R: Ugly and Foul-tongued

Orion Jr., Harmonia and their children arrived a little late to the baby shower. Harmonia braided her long, fine, blond hair back into a loose bundle. She too wore a white dress, but it covered a little more due to her complexion. When her parasol gaily slipped aside and the happy sun fell upon her willowy, ephemeral figure, the affect on her sublime features was dazzling. She dressed her daughters the same, but they had their father’s dark hair and the Sienna family’s propensity for tan skin and rowdiness. Harmonia’s was a unique beauty on the beach that day.

Orion’s mother, Maeve Sienna and Aunt Roxanne looked at him across the picnic grounds and one said, “Is he naked?” Orion dressed exactly like his brothers, but without his notoriously crisp business outfits or immaculate uniform he almost didn’t look like himself. Of course, as they strolled closer his regal bearing, Negroid features, fair skin and dark curly hair proved his identity.

His youngest brother was re-enacting his fall for the third time. Beyond their uncle’s performance Orion’s oldest daughter Sylvia and her little sister could see their cousins chasing clams far out at the tide line where the inches-deep water continued to fall.

Encouraged by Harmonia, Orion’s went to investigate his young brother’s activities. Harmonia pecked him on the check and sent him on his way. As Harmonia’s handsome husband departs someone scurried forth from the Devil’s Club. The someone had been waiting in the deep shadows of the surrounding ancient gray-boled spruce forest. Harmonia's children saw the misshapen figure behind their mother. They ran to meet their cousins as though something fanged and shaggy just snuck from the woods. Here was the ugliest thing on a beach visited by dirty, seagulls bloated on spawned out salmon carcasses. Bow-legged she was and lame in one foot; her round shoulders were stooped. She was pointy-headed and almost bald, only a scant stubble grew on her head. Unknowingly, Harmonia continued towards the picnic table where her sisters-in-law enthusiastically waved her over.

“Good morning, Harmonia!” snapped a squeamish voice behind her.

Harmonia’s eyebrows might have risen a little in surprise. In fact, her glacial blue eyes did widen a little. “Hello, Mrs. Leigh.” she cooed as she spun lightly, took the older, shorter woman under the arm and continued on their way.

“Harmony! When will you start calling me Emma?”

“Oh, you’ll always be Mrs. Leigh to me.” Harmonia added to a “Tut. Tut.” while patting her great-grandmother’s friend on the arm.

A roar of laughter and greeting burst upon the sunny landscape as Orion joined his brothers and brother-in-law.

“There is too much horseplay when Maeve’s sons are around. “ Leigh sneered as she watched the bear hugs among the men and the small children being snatched up for kisses. “I’m always afraid I’ll get knocked down.”

Harmonia’s demur expression enlivened a little as she replied. “Madam Sienna’s sons are just fine with me. And you know what my great-grandmother always said about saying negative things about people.” Then, with the sweetest smile Harmonia took a deep breath.

The aged harpy moved alongside the strolling Harmonia in fits of scurry and intermittent dragging of the lame foot. She held her sharp tongue for a moment in order to avoid the well intended, light-hearted, upbeat lengthy lecture that would follow if she didn’t desist from defaming Harmonia’s husband. Harmonia’s great-grandmother taught her this trick. Then her shrill voice burst out, “Well, I’m just saying you are lucky you didn’t have any brothers.”

Some dark emotion crossed Harmonia’s fair brow for a moment. Like some lost cloud on a “cloudless” day crossing the face of the sun. In truth, two thoughts crossed Harmonia’s mind. First, her aching regret of never having sibling or knowing her parents; a heartbreak she shared with her mother-in-law Maeve. The second darker thought was the rumors of the suspicious death of teenage Emma’s baby brother.

As though suddenly struck by something, the dwarfish woman stopped. “Orion shouldn’t let the children play so close to the water unattended. I’ll go check on them.” At which point she turned her hurried steps towards the jade green water of Fredrick Sound. She ignored the group of burly men and began calling for Harmonia’s children.

Harmonia paused in bemusement to watch the wild haired woman wander off. When she went on her way again she realized the reason for Mrs. Leigh departure; Harmonia’s dark-haired mother-in-law had joined the younger women. Maeve and Roxanne also watched “Poor Mrs. Leigh” limp towards the children. She’d become “Poor Mrs. Leigh” when Maeve discovered she had cleidocranial dysplasia, a rare genetic bone condition. Madam Sienna could be sympathetic because her own husband John had foot problems.

Beyond the sandy white beach where the men bumped chests and the women sat at picnic tables with the family’s newborns, the tidal flats consisted of cobblestone sized slimy rocks, green and rust colored seaweed, stranded jelly-fish and occasionally a wooden stake left from the Tlingit fish traps that once spanned the mouth of the little cove. Mrs. Leigh found it difficult walking as revealed by her grunts and unladylike curses. When her pinched demanding call could no longer be denied by the children, the dogs responded.

Mrs. Leigh didn’t like dogs, primarily because they were smart enough not to trust her. She didn’t like John Sienna’s dogs because they were smart enough not to betray that mistrust around witnesses. The smaller of the “Aelthristanian Griffins” leapt across the tidal flats shaking her curl covered body in the most friendly of fashion. It was only the “old family friend” that heard the growling and gnashing of fangs as she circled the cursing shrew. Jake, the big drooling midnight-black monster that terrified the trembling woman ran half way to her and then back. He actually herded the smaller children away from her. As Mrs. Leigh got closer both dogs paced back and forth to keep Leigh at bay from the children.

“I have treats.” Sounded the frustrated old lady. “Your Grand Daddy said it was okay.”

Sylvia squeezed through the dog flesh swarming and scurrying in front of the visibly shaken gray-haired woman. “Sylvia” a most unusual name for a grandchild of John Sienna, was named in honor of her lost mother and grandmother.

“Sylvia, honey. I brought treats. Oh you are growing up to be such a beautiful young woman. You look exactly like your mother at this age.”

In fact, everyone said Sylvia looked most like Grandmother Maeve of all the grandchildren, complete with the cold black eyes that kept her “godmother” at a safe distance.

“Thank you, Mrs. Leigh.”

“Oh, Sylvia why wouldn’t you call me Aunty Em?”

A smile broke across the child’s stern features as she recited the answer as her family had for five generations. Then she thanked Mrs. Leigh again, took the Tupperware of homemade cookies and promised not to let the little one’s eat too many. Her sister and elder cousins, who’d restrained the smaller children, raised a storm of “thank yous” and ran off towards the water’s edge where it was sandy again. Jake galloped and barked amongst the children as they returned to clamming. Gizmo, the smaller dog stood stock still and growling to insure the shriveled up shrew didn’t follow. Once, out of sight, the children left the container on a high rock so they couldn’t forget it. The cookies they dumped into a hole in the sand while whispering pomme empoisonnée to the younger children. Sylvia reminded them what happen to Snow White. As the dreadful story was delivered to the circle of children, one saw a clam “squirt” in the soft sand and with a shout they all joyfully returned to the chases. .

The gnarled munchkin spewed her pent up venom and anger on the men as she passed them in route to where Harmonia sat. ”Grand Daddy!” she snarled at Maeve’s husband, a man clearly younger than her. “I can’t believe you let your sons, “ here she sneers at Orion, “endanger the lives of your grandchildren!”

The group of startled, now shirtless men towering over her glanced her way as though she was a hornet suddenly buzzing too near. Roxanne’s husband looked like he might swat it. A restraining right hand fell across this man’s impossibly wide-shoulders. A consoling left hand stroked Orion’s back. Neither by his actions nor his facial expression did John Sienna indicate he’d noticed the insult.

“Thank you, Mrs. Leigh for your concern. Nathan.” He called to his ever-present, ever-protective grandson. “Please, go get the kids. I think your grandmother Maeve is going to scry for the gender of the baby.”

“Maeve!” the witch spat. “She never liked me after I filed the lawsuit to attain shares in the company.”

“Oh, she likes you. She laughed that off while it was happening.” John Sienna assured her with a crooked grin.

All the men smiled down at her likewise

“Well, it wasn’t funny to me! I lost a lot of money!”

The men huddled around her tried not to laugh in response, but once she stormed off they succumbed to their natures.

“Why do we put up with poor Mrs. Leigh?” Roxanne’s husband asked on behalf of all the other men.

“Well, “ John began. “She is Harmonia’s fairy godmother more or less. And you know how temperamental fairies can be, if you know the story of Sleeping Beauty. “ As teenagers his sons would roll their eyes when John Sienna began to retell old fairy tales and myths. They learned early to listen closely. “Sleeping Beauty didn’t have a fairy god mother at first. Her parents invited the neighboring fairies to a baby shower just like this one before she was born. They hoped one of them would volunteer. Six fairy castles stood nearby, but one was so over grown and hoary looking that everyone assumed the fairy mistress of the place was dead. Of course, no one actually checked. The five fays invited to attend the shower were happy to be included. As the family and their guest sat down to dinner, the sixth and presumably deceased fairy arrived and said, “I didn’t want to be evil, but you didn’t invite me and now I have to be.”

Thoughtful silence reigned amongst the men with the ending of Grand Daddy’s tale. The only sound was the buzz of a mosquito which finally alighted on the naked upper arm of Roxanne’s husband. He grinned as he made a show of swatting and slaying it.

Meanwhile, Harmonia joined the Siennan women. One of her sister-in-laws, while nursing her youngest, innocently asked how she and Mrs. Leigh were friends.

“When great-grandmother passed away, Mrs. Leigh and your family were the only people who continued to think of me and include me. She was the “family” I had at my wedding. Think of all she’s done for me over the years.”

In the distance they could see their children and dogs racing for the picnic tables. They went much faster than the witch’s gnarled legs could carry her. Gizmo followed the pack of excited children. Mrs. Leigh meanly kicked at the small dog. Gizmo responded by snapping at the offending foot without breaking stride. The men top-offed their beers and went to stand behind their seated wives. The children packed around their mothers’ skirts. John Sienna’s dogs now took up positions between him and the only guest outside the family. Gizmo, with hair on end, packed up until her haunches rested againsts John’s left ankle. Jake sat on John’s right foot (John flinched.) and raised his head to be petted by his master. Harmonia saved her godmother a seat. In the process of guiding the older woman to the place beside her, she took both her hands. They made quite a picture; the lithe, angelic, smiling Harmonia holding the hands and sitting next to the hoary cruel-eyed dwarf. With her hands occupied Mrs. Leigh couldn’t ask to hold any of the babies.

The expectant mother and Maeve with Roxanne’s assistance skried for the gender of the baby with the younger woman’s wedding ring. The decision was twins; one of each. Afterwards, the children ran off to play and the men refreshed their beers. At that moment of chaos; for just a moment Maeve’s black eyes met the witch’s sharp glance. It was a look of compassion.

“I feel sorry for her sometimes.” Maeve confided to her red-headed sister. “Look how their holding hands; just like us. I think sometimes she and I are a lot alike.”

“You girls are so lucky.” The harpy announced to the surrounding younger women. “The Siennans don’t believe in pre-nups so you can get a bundle when you divorce them.”

Roxanne nudged her sister and laughed silently.

“Okay! Never mind!” Maeve whispered and then laughed out loud.