The Button Maker Murders - Chapter 1 - Who's the Fool Now? (continued 4)
If you want to ask questions, you should ask about wildflowers.
Herbs I know and use for healing, and really everything green and growing is my domain, but wildflowers are my particular obsession. If you ask about them, about fairy slippers for instance, I will answer gladly, even be obliged for the chance.
You want to know about the Simple? Well, that is not me anymore. Nor am I Angle Daggon's woman. We are companions. Intimate, yes, though it's none of your business. And yes, we were close friends of Raymond Kidd. If there was an inner circle, you could say we were part of it. But why do you ask?
You think that Mr. Kidd is still around? You must believe in ghosts. In that case, and since you assure me you are sympathetic, and if indeed it might be helpful, I will give you what background I can.
Yes, we were ghosts, Angle and I. Or rather Angle was. You have no word for what I was. Not even an idea, as far as I can tell.
We were not lovers in our last life. At least not if by lovers you mean two who are in love when they make love. He could not be in love with me then. He was on top of the world – a bold privateer, young and handsome, rich from the spoils of his enterprise. He was really a pirate of course but no one dared to say so. They accorded him only respect. He ran tabs at all the taverns. The fishermen dropped off the best of their catch at his door. There was no law in Prospect. No one to enforce it, anyway. Which amounts to the same thing. So, he was feared but admired, envied and courted. It was the talk of the village when he came after Jenny the Simple. No one could believe it.
The villagers called me the Simple because I seemed so to them. I kept to the woods and the fields and avoided the village, avoided company whenever I could. My father, a widower, despaired of me. One warm August night he went out for a walk by the light of the moon and was never heard from again. The cottage was taken for debt. At first the more charitable families would offer food and a bed. But I was too wild. I swam often – in ponds or the cold sea – but could not be bothered to bathe in tubs or comb or trim my hair with anything other than shards of a broken mirror that had been my mother’s. No matter what clothes I was given I soon tore them on briars or took them off and forgot them. I took to wearing old sacks. I rarely spoke and though I often sang it was in a language all my own. Hospitality waned. All the welcomes dried up. I ate berries and roots and other things that grew wild, slept in sheds, under overturned boats, in the woods in lean-tos that I made myself, along the coast in clefts between the larger rocks.
No, I was not a likely match for dashing Angle Daggon. Till he mistook me for a mermaid.
When I swam, I was a different creature altogether. Gone was my tangled mess of a mane, my introversion of demeanour, the limp I had acquired from my barefoot ramblings. I moved through the water freely and easily, smoothly and swiftly, openly and proudly. So one night, exceedingly drunk after taking a prize, Angle fell out of the skiff he was rowing to shore. Opening his eyes underwater, he saw a greenish light streaking toward him. It was me, wreathed in phosphorescence and coming to his rescue. I had been on the island at the mouth of the harbour, sitting on the seaward side, singing and watching the waves crash and feeling the boom in my bones. I was on my way back to the mainland when I saw Angle. He had stood up and was roaring at the moon. And then he lost his balance and came down with a great splash. I hauled him to shore by his pigtail.
He remembered me the way he saw me when I saved his life, as a mysterious beauty with an otherworldly radiance. He told everyone that a mermaid had come to his rescue. No one laughed at him. No one dared to. But eventually he was given to understand who I really was.
His saviour was the village idiot.
Still he sought me out. He had to have me so he could throw me away. It was a silent, rather violent affair. I think he was afraid of me. There was a look in his eye both of anger and of helplessness. His laugh when he got up from the pallet and fastened his breeches was hollow, not convincing at all. The slamming of the shed door with such force that the top leather hinge broke was more to the point. I saw him stomp off through the mud swearing, satisfied neither with me nor himself. But especially not with himself.
How I died giving birth to his child, how the child died, in the salt marsh on the cold ground, just the two of us alone, well, that's another story I don't want to tell right now. Suffice it to say that I did not move on. That would make me a ghost, normally. However, there was too much love in me. Instead I became a sort of spirit of the barachois, diffused throughout that dreamlike locale where land and sea meet and mingle and are not two different things. Where the rising tide met fresh water, I was the taste of the salt. Where the sap crept in a stunted tree, I was the soul of that most patient of motions. Where algae spread on a rock, I was the heart of tenacious creation. No sir, I was never a thing of the shadows, not at all. It was my dear darling Angle who suffered all that.
But these are other stories too. I have taken enough of your time for the nonce, and you of mine. How Angle and I came to be here, over a century farther along, I think you know already. Otherwise, how did you find me?
And what is your story, Mr. Latimer?
You know, you remind me of something that happened today. My new friend Dawn O'Keefe and I were out walking, gathering wildflowers for the ikebana class we're taking. We were down in the barachois, searching the fens, thickets and drumlins. I was stroking the air around a fairy slipper orchid I had pointed out to Dawn. My fingers never actually brushed the crown of purple petals above the slipper-shaped pouch, yet they were close enough for the plant’s energy to enter into me. A smell like vanilla caressed me. My lips parted and my eyes closed.
“We have to be careful,” I said to Dawn. “It wants to keep us here forever.”
“It’s heavenly, Jenny,” Dawn said. “We can use it as the heaven flower.” She knelt on the boggy ground to snip the slender stem.
“Oh no,” I said. “Not this one.”
“Why not?” said Dawn.
“Because this one seduced me,” I said. “This one and I were intimate. We’ll have to find another and lop it off straightaway without paying it any attention.”
Dawn missed the sight as we were turning away, but I caught it from the corner of my eye.
As if it were watching us, the fairy slipper turned our way.
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