Penelope Rose

 "Penelope Rrroosse!"

  I started from my crouched position at my makeshift table, an old, rough stump, a decapitaed ancient tree that once was, tossing together my sketch pad and drawing equipment in a mishappen pile in my arms.

  "Penelope!" my Grandmother continued to howl wildly from her porch. I bolted through the underbrush towards the hideous shriek, branches and leaves slapping at my face and arms, a buzz of Alabama mosquitoes eating at my bare arms and legs. The humidity was thick in the air, sweat beading my forehead as I leapt from the woods into Grandmother's prim back gardens, colors blooming in neat order all across the small green patch. Not a leaf was out of place. Everything was perfect, at least on the surface, in Grandmother Mosley's world, in a world she reigned high queen.

   I dodged her vegtable garden, thick with tomatos and okra at the time all it lovely little rows, and swept my way to the front of the house. Skipping a few steps, I leapt onto the front porch and swept my way to the door, kicking off my muddy sneakers, haphazardly opening and closing the door while trying to balance all my drawing things in my arms.

   Grandmother Mosley waited in her favorite chair, a chair that looked like it was as old as she was, her face twisted in a scowl. It seemed that was the permanent reaction when she gazed over me and my "disaster".   Her pearly white hair sat cleanly in place, matching pearls draped about her frail, wrinkly neck, not a speck of dirt beneath her freshly manicured fingernails. Grandmother Mosley had been raised a Southern Belle, and remained to this day, ruling over her household with the grace and harshness of a royal highness.

   The room about her was just the same-a room you couldn't feel comfortable in. The furinture was antique Victorian, that you had to always sit up straight it and never find a nice comfy spot to chill out inside. Glass trinkets, vases, and an assortment of other things adorned the room in a tasteful Southern class-a bunch of useless junk that was only there for me to break somehow by accident. It was as if Grandmother Mosley had just wished to get me tied up in trouble somehow.

  "Penelope Rose, what are you doing out there?" she scoffed, a Southern twang lingering in her voice. "Look at your hair, it looks like it's been days since you've combed it."  Her pale lips formed into a hard, straight line. "Clean yourself up a bit and bring some pie to old Mrs. Haggart. It's sitting on the kitchen counter ready to go. And don't take my car, I had it cleaned." 

   With a wave of her hand, I was silently dismissed, making my way back to the kitchen. Just as Grandmother said, there sat the Chicken Pot Pie, perfectly wrapped and ready. "Now you be back here before dark, you here me?" said Grandmother shrilly. "Don't go foolin' around out on the town. Come straight back here."

  "Yes, Ma'am." I called. I had never said Ma'am in my life until I had come to live with Grandmother. I soon learned that it was a regular thing down here in Alabama.

  I stacked my things in the corner, taking the pie in my arms and departing out the back door, not in the mood to hear any of Grandmother's further critic of my appearance or my "manners". I passed her car, a sheen on it's white surface in the later afternoon sun. I would just walk to old Mrs. Haggart's house-it was not too far down the road.

   When I was seven, I lived happily with my parents. My mother was Grandmother Mosley's daughter, a Southern girl who had married my father, who lived in upstate New York. I never met many of either side of my family, our small little knit of a group was pretty tight and secluded. One night, the house caught fire. I didn't remember much of the night execting the terrible heat, my terror, and the pain when the flames lashed out at me.

   I was told I dropped unconcious from the pain I experienced combining with the smoke. I woke in the hospital, alone, with a nurse to tell me that my parents had died. I forgot how long I cried, but I was soon released from the hospital, a scar from my worst burn across my back, remaining as an omen. I was told that my father's family didn't want to take me, so I got on the next plane from Buffalo, New York and flew to Alabama to live with my Grandmother, where I've been stuck every since, being taught to be "lady-like", "proper", and "mannerly".

   Reaching Mrs. Haggart's front yard, I gazed up to the ramshackle of a house. THe garden ran wild and free, and the roof was sunken in, the paint peeling from the old wooden siding. I walked to the doorstep, gently pulling open a dirty screen door leading onto a cluttered porch, which appeared as if it hadn't been cleaned since the house was built. The windows were musty, propped open as the house had no air conditioning. Mrs. Haggart was a widow and I had seen her but few times. Most kids in the neighborhood growing up said she was a witch of sorts, and dared one another to play various pranks on her, or even just touch her house.

   I stepped to the front door, and knocked as loudly and distinctly as I could. From inside I heard a weak croak, "Who is it?"

   "It's Penelope Carter, Ma'am, Mrs. Mosley's granddaughter." I called politely.

   "Ah, young Penelope Rose." I heard a reply. "Come on in Dear, the door's unlocked."

   Gently I pushed the door open, hit by a wave of dust. The smell of mustiness hit me hard, muted sunlight pouring through the dirty glass windows. I began sweating harder than it was before, the enclosed heat was nearly unbearable, like in an oven.

  Mrs. Haggart's small, fragile form sat in her old, plush recliner, a blanket hiding the lower half of her body. Her long grey hair was messy and untamed about her face, glasses sitting on her skeleton of a face. She smiled a toothless grin at me, beckoning me to sit in a chair opposite of her.  "Company, how kind of you." she rasped. I felt a wave of pity for her. Grandmother Mosley said that Mrs. Haggart had gotten cancer a few years back, didn't want to go for treatment even when her daughter offered to pay for it. The disease was eating away at her, and she was too weak to do much of anything any longer.

  I offered her the pie, "Here, Mrs. Haggart, my grandmother made this for you."

 She chuckled, taking the pie with her bony hands. "What a kind soul, God bless her." Mrs. Haggart smiled sadly, looking down at the dish.  "Never liked her when I was younger...makes me regret that I did." There was a pause. Her face lightened back up, turning to me. "Shug, go in the kitchen and get a pair of plates and a pair of utensils. This was just in time, was wondering what I was going to have for dinner, thinking I ain't had nothin' in this house."

  I did as I was told and made my way to the messy kitchen, arranging what she had requested and returning, handing the plates and things to her. "Here," she cut and handed me a piece of the pie on one of the plates. "Eat up."

  "No..I mean, no thank you, Ma'am. That is for you." I raised my palms up.

  "I insist. You ain't offendin' anybody here. I haven't had dinner with anybody in ages." her voice was strong and determined.

  I paused, "I'm not that hungry anyways, Ma'am. Grandmother's probably got something prepared at home for me."

   Mrs. Haggart shrugged and dove into her own piece, moaning at the taste. Between bites, she muttered, "Your Gran makes the best pies the planet's to offer."

   I smiled, waiting for her to finish, which she soon did, setting the rest of the pie aside. She briskly wiped her mouth, and then eyed me suspciously. "Yes?" I couldn't help smiling slightly, shifting in my seat.

   She continued most seriously, "Your Gran loves you, know that. She doesn't show it like normal people do, she has her own way of doin' it. Be grateful for it, before it's too late."

   I looked down to my hands, not knowing what to reply. "You look for adventure, you look for freedom, you look for excitement." Mrs. Haggart rambled on. She laughed. "You'll find it soon." I looked up. She held my eyes, her own hard and knowing, "Just stay safe. Hah, you'll learn the lessons of life pretty quick where they don't count."  What? That didn't make sense...she paused, that strange look leaving her eyes. "By the time your half my age, you'll be lookin' for quiet, ain't adventure or action. You'll see."

   We talked for a little while longer, I cleaned the dishes and arranged her kitchen a little more neatly, and returned to chat for a few moments more. Mrs. Haggart had a strange sense of humor and said strange things, but there was something about her that I liked very much. "Shug, it's near dark. You better head home or else your Gran will put a switch on you, I know." she chuckled after a while, gesturing to the darkening windows. "Thank her for the Pot Pie."

    I stood, bidding good-bye and heading towards the door. "Drop by when you return, I want to hear all about it!" Mrs. Haggart called as I departed. Return? From where? I didn't say anything about going anywhere? I nodded, smiling, and briskly left, telling myself that she was getting amnesia from her old age and disease, but her unusual words lurked in my head, as if they were meant to have some meaning.





The End

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