She continued to sit there, kicking her heels, not speaking, trying to be as quiet as possible.
He flicked the sheet edge at her, startling her enough that she slid and almost fell off. Scrambling up from where she landed she paused to twist her skirts in place, frowning slightly, and then picked her way over to the window to take up a position from which she could look down and out at the gardens and streets below but also could check back into the room to see what he was doing.
The outside view showed her a man who was walking his dog, a kid who was playing catch with a toy of some kind, two large crows, posturing and cawing at each other, a black car idling at the curb, and an old yellow school bus passing by. Turning back, she looked to see what he was now doing. Tidying piles and sorting through finished work, checking and looking first at this and then at that. Now attempting to work another sheet into the machine. Concentrating fiercely.
She wondered how long before it would be safe to resume her favorite seat, where she would continue watching and waiting while he worked. She wished she could initiate conversation but it always had to be him. And he didn’t. Not since that one time. When he asked her why she was hanging around after he’d already said he was finished with her, that it was done - over, is what he’d said - and ended by asking just what she thought she was doing.
She’d been no small bit miffed by his questions, and let him know so, saying, “You know, now and then I catch glimpses, and there are others hanging on around here. Way in the back out there.” She waved her hand at the deep shadowy recesses of the long room. “Others who stay. So why not me? After all, it’s you who have brought me here. You who’ve told me who I am, who I’m to be. As I’m still here, I have to say you are not finished with me. You are not done. I am not done. This is not over. It’s not. You just don’t know it yet. But, I do.”
She’d felt shaky. But at least she’d gotten to speak. As herself. Out loud. Making him hear her. Though he hadn’t liked it. Or, no, it wasn’t as profound as liking or disliking. No. It wasn’t a matter of like or dislike. More simply and more correctly put, in all respects he had had no appreciation. Which is worse. Because it means she has to stay. The alternative is unacceptable. If there even is an alternative. And besides, the whole thing is really on him.
She turns back to take another look out and down, seeing this time that the child has gone and the dog is racing around and around while its owner stands, totally engaged in watching the crows posture and caw, unaware of his dog’s lead wrapping and twisting about his legs. Look out, she thought silently, even the least of us sometimes can topple you big ones.
Turning back to check again inside the room and on the man working there, she sees out of the corner of her eye the dark rusty mule and its companion with the weird horns, just visible at the edges of the glass works. The mule looks approachable. Its companion, wild and fierce. Completing her turn, she sees that it will be safe now for her to steal back and resume her favorite place.
Once again seated safely, she looks, to clock how much work he’s done today. It looks like things are reaching a new stage, several neat stacks of finished sheets close at hand, with many more sitting just beyond. She can’t help sighing, causing him to flick an angry glare her way before immediately returning to his work. She sticks her tongue out at him and wishes he’d seen. She wishes somebody had seen, would see her. She wishes she could speak, even if never allowed her own thoughts.
Her sighs seem irrepressible now, and she knows that pretty soon he’ll get up and go, turning off all the lamps as he does, so that after sundown there will be absolute darkness in the room and beyond. Which will mean problems for her if she tries wandering far from the windows. Not a happy prospect, since, as the single source of visibility, staying there to be able to see anything means she will be chilled - it is cold outside - and anyway, all it will permit her are glimpses of lights left on in other buildings or in homes or whatever cars or people happen by on the streets below. Another sigh from her, another angry glare from him.
She pulls to her her memories of when she was free - alive - as if to warm herself with them. She had laughed a lot, she recollects. And she had had all the other kids at school with whom to chatter and do lessons and tease and care for, each for and about the other. And Maude Adams. She admired the character of the teacher, Miss Maude Adams. She hadn’t admired the huge unexpected snow storm that closed streets and roadways, causing Miss Adams to announce an early closing of school for that day and probably altogether for the next day or two.
She kicks her feet then, wishing, wishing, wishing she could know how all the other kids are. And Miss Adams. Barring that, she wishes he would help her. Even by letting her become something else. Allowing her to forget her previous brief happiness. Or just be well and truly done with her. Get clear in his own mind about it. But above all else, if nothing else can or will happen, she wishes for that deepest of all sleeps. She remembers the darkness and its wholeness, can just catch wisps of it, before the sharp rapping of Miss Adams knuckles on the desk close to her head had startled her into being awake. “Come awake,” Miss Adams had said. “Stop snoozing in class.” And she had, wonder of wonders.
She kicks her feet again, risking displeasure, even abandonment. She can’t help it. She’s sighed deeply twice now, causing the edge of the new sheet to ruffle, calling his attention back to her. And further, somehow calling him over to face her, where he bends forward, his face almost in her own, his arms akimbo, fists dug deep into his waist. And standing thus, bent way over, pushing his face into hers, he addresses her. Almost accusingly. Yet -- touched with something quite different, underlying it. What? Admiration, maybe, even a kind of affection? She is so struck by this multi-layering of attitude she almost misses what is being said.
“Okay. Okay, okay, okay,” he snaps. “You were right. You are right. I am not finished with you. Seems you’re right back in the thick of things. Maybe minor player. Maybe a regular. At least for a while. No. Strike that. In fact, for how long I don’t know. Let’s say the foreseeable future.” He paused and eyed her intently, adding, “Satisfied?” She can do no more than nod. “Right, then. Ready?”
Still nodding, helplessly, there is a moment of dizziness before she is entering the school room, late to class, Maude Adams rising from her seat at her desk where she’s been reading
“I, Claudius” to the children seated before her, saying now, “Why, Ursula Grieg. I thought you’d moved away. Welcome back. And who is this?”
Miss Adams has come quickly towards her and is stooping to look into the face of -- oh, her younger brother. Brad! She realizes this with a leap in her heart as the typewriter keys strike out the name just in time for her to know and to say.
“Brad” she says, gently urging him forward to meet Miss Adam’s extended hand with his own. A brother. A younger brother. This means she is, they are, Ursula and Brad. With parents? Or no, maybe not. She’d moved away. Why? What did had that meant? Her parents were dead? Or maybe just one of them? Mother? Of father? And hears his testy voice in her head, tiny but sharp, saying to just please wait for it, to just wait and see, it wasn’t like he’s planned any of this -- all that accompanied by the sharp sound of his punching the keys, to send her into a life where Brad now is tugging hard at her hand and whispering desperately.
“I just wet my pants, Ursa!”
And she is pulling him into a bear hug despite his wet trousers, and now is looking up to meet Maude Adams eyes and at the same time is hearing the other kids beginning to whisper and giggle. And thinks to herself that tonight she will sleep, that gentler sleep she remembers as belonging to the state of being brought to life. Again. And wondering, wondering like all of us do, what can possibly lie ahead?
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