Self-imposed cliffhangers, I call them.
A flippant highschool girl and her mother discuss a pattern the girl is determined to buy.
“Amanda, what is that you have?” Mother peered around her daughter to the small, flat parcel in her hand. “Not something outrageous again, I hope.”
“Just a pattern I need.” Amanda whisked the package away from Mother’s view. “You needn’t worry about it.”
“Let me see it, dear.” Mother spoke gently and softly, and Amanda complied with a look of disgust. After a brief glance at the front of the package, Mother’s eyes flew open. “Why Amanda! I’m surprised at you; picking up something like this.”
“Oh, honestly.” Letting the hand grasping the package fall, Amanda pulled at her kinky blonde hair, her eyes rolling for the thousandth time that day. “It’s just a skirt.”
“I realize that, dear, but look at the price! And how much material it would take to make something like this; I don’t know how you could even think we can afford it.” Mother gripped her lean wallet a little tighter and smoothed the front of her shabby dress. “I’m barely making do as it is.”
“For goodness sake!” Amanda turned to the side, flipping her hair over her shoulders and stood her ground. “You would think that with a new school year a girl might get something decent to wear! I’ve been ‘barely making do’ with the clothes I have; surely you don’t expect me to go into high school looking like Raggedy-Anne.”
“Amanda, I just don’t think it can be done.” Mother’s voice was now tired and the look on her face told passersby that she was staving off tears. “You don’t know how much I would like to fit you out with the best that money could buy—we just don’t have that kind of money.”
“Oh, you seem to dig it up from somewhere: You’re constantly giving it away along with our things and your time and effort to help homeless beggars and tramps—why can’t it be spent somewhere where it will actually do some good?” Amanda’s words poured forth in a scornful, scathing torrent, and she gripped the pattern tighter. “I don’t mean to go into a new school looking like I’m from a dump heap.”
“Well, since you put it that way, I suppose maybe it can be afforded.” Mother looked in her wallet and counted out the few bills. “Find yourself some material, dear, and we’ll take it over to the seamstress right away.”
“All this fuss over a new skirt.” Amanda marched away triumphantly, leaving Mother standing alone near the pattern rack. “You’d think she was deciding whether or not to spend our lives, not a little money.”
A preacher stops his car to ask directions from a tramp who is cooking his supper by the side of the road.
“Excuse me, but do you know the way to Ainesville?” Reverend Colton leaned across the seat of his shiny sedan and spoke through the open window.
“It’s a’lookin t’ me like ye got yerself in the right way t’ git thar.” The little man looked up from his pot of curiously bubbling liquid and jabbed a dirty finger towards the highway. “Jes keep on headin in that thar d’rekchin and I ‘spect ye’ll make it thar even’chally.”
“Are you so sure?” The reverend held the worn map on his front seat up to the light of the setting sun. “I’ve been on this road for a good 3 hours, and I was supposed to come to it directly after a quarter of an hour at the most.”
“Wall, mister, I ‘spect I’d know this ‘ere terri’try; I’ve a’lived ‘ere long as I kin rememer.” Bending over his pot, the tramp took a big sniff of the steam and nodded approvingly before straightening up again. “But if yer so doggone set on hearin’ out the d’rekchins, I kin give em ya.”
“I would appreciate it very much.” Reverend Colton cringed as the tramp’s dirty word burned his ears, but said nothing about it. “I need to be to the Ainseville parish by nightfall.”
“Wall, mister, it’s like this. Ye take this ‘ere road til ye git down lower’n the spring, and right thar at the spring, ye take a left. Keep on til ye hit the mine shaft, an’ make another left right thar across the mine head and keep on a’goin til ye pass old Murphy’s dead cow, and take another left. After that left, ye jes keep on til ye git to the highway and make a right. After thet, I ‘spect you’ll hit Ainseville d’rectly.” The tramp gave his directions while stirring the pot and making strange jabs at the air with his finger. “Trip’ll prolly take ye som’ere’s ‘round 3 and a quarter hours.”
A professor makes arrangements with a trucker to haul his household goods to another city.
“Are you the one set to deliver my things to Wellsford?” Professor Dodgins looked over the tops of his gold rimmed spectacles at the scruffy-faced man who had sauntered over to him.
“Yep.” The trucker stuck out a grimy hand. “That’d be me. Name’s Carl.”
“I am indeed grateful to you for your time, sir. I am anxious—yes, indeed—to have myself properly settled.” Professor Dodgins spoke rapidly, nervously; and avoided the trucker’s hand as though it were plague. “I don’t suppose you know of the place you are to take them?”
“No indeedy,” Carl replied, spitting a wad of who-knew-what past the professor. “Jus’ give me the description and I imagine I’ll find ‘er all right.”
“21450 NW Hickory Street.” Professor Dodgins’ entire body tensed as though he were ready to run. “It’s at the north end of town.”
“I would ‘spect so, seeing’s how its nor’west.” Carl looked a little baffled at the needless information that had been tagged on. “What kind am I to be lookin’ for?”
“Kind? What kind?” The professor removed his spectacles and wiped them and then laid a hand against his high forehead. “I am afraid I do not comprehend what you mean, sir.”
“I mean, mister, is the house one story, two story; does it have big winders; what color is it…” Carl rattled off a list of specifications for the professor to answer, at which the latter went white. “I gotter know what the thing looks like.”
“Why, man, I just gave you the address!” Professor Dodgins finally sputtered, throwing both hands in the air. “Isn’t that enough to know?”
“Oh no, mister, not at all.” The trucker folded his arms and studied the clouds above his head. “Las’ time the boss tried to send me on an errand with only an address I ended up in the south forty. Don’t want that happenin’ again.”
A teacher questions an eleven-year-old boy who has been playing with matches around the building.
“Anthony, would you stay a moment please?” Miss James turned from cleaning the blackboard to address a freckle-faced, curly-headed scamp just about to slip out of the classroom. “It won’t be long.”
“Yes’m.” Anthony’s desk creaked again and Miss James finished clearing off the blackboard before coming down to sit in a desk opposite the little red-head.
“Anthony, do you know why I kept you back?” Miss James spoke kindly to the boy, who looked down at his desk, red curls falling about his ears. “I think you have some sort of an idea.”
“I guess ‘cuz I was pulling on Jemimah’s braids again.” The boy ventured a guess, avoiding the terrible subject that was now burning his brain as assuredly as it had the side wall of the schoolhouse that morning. “I jus’ couldn’t help it Teacher.”
“Well, that is a good guess, but it wasn’t what I was referring to.” The teacher straightened up a little and looked down at the Anthony, her gentle hand resting on the smooth desktop. “I do think that Jemimah would appreciate you not pulling her braids, though.”
“Well I don’t think I know then, Teacher.” Anthony finally dared to look up, facing Miss James with a look of blue-eyed innocence. “I ain’t done nothin’ else today.”
“Oh?” Miss James’s eyebrow cocked, and Anthony looked back down at the desk in apparent agony. “I think you might be telling me a falsehood, Anthony.”
“I ain’t tryin to lie!” Anthony cried out, burying his face in folded arms on the top of the desk. “You’re a’makin me feel guilty, so I got to!”
“Anthony, no one is making you say anything. I just want the truth from you—nothing more or less.” Miss James looked sympathetic and half-amused at the boy’s outburst. “Come now, and be honest about it.”
“I cain’t, Teacher—I cain’t!” Anthony shuddered and quaked, head still buried in his arms. “Oh I’m just the unluckiest fellow of eleven that ever lived!”
A cranky old maid and a cheerful mother of seven discuss, over the back fence, the flu epidemic that has broken out in town.
“Good morning June!” Anne’s voice rang out across the lawn and arrested the attention of the old woman who had been beating a hasty retreat into the house. “Fine day for early spring, don’t you think?”
“Early spring it is, and no more welcome than an early end to harvest time.” Miss June stopped and turned about, glaring contemptuously at the puffy clouds sailing by overhead. “It’s like to mean an early winter.”
“But winter’s got a certain magic to it, wouldn’t you agree?” Anne leaned on the picket fence separating her property from the rack-shack, tumble-down plot Miss June called home. “I couldn’t even think of minding an early winter.”
“I don’t know where you young folk get these heretical ideas,” Miss June fairly spat as she came down the porch steps. “It’s stuff-n-nonsense.”
“I see you’ve avoided the epidemic so far.” Anne ignored the old woman’s malediction and changed the subject with tact. “At least two of my little ones have it now.”
“Yes, I don’t suppose I’ll get it this time around.” Miss June was now at the fence near Anne. “I don’t go out gallivanting around other folks like you all do.”
“Well, with a clan of seven I can’t exactly be out too much.” Anne stated things matter-of-factly, and brushed a beetle off her apron. “I think Cassie and Diana picked it up at school.”
“I would expect so.” Miss June’s voice was dark at the mention of children. “Young’uns always pick up the most heinous diseases and bring them back from school.”
“Poor old Mabel Parker has it now, too.” Anne’s tone breathed sympathy, which seemed to only rile the old maid on the other side of the fence. “With her husband gone for so many years, it’s been difficult for her to cope, and now this.”
“Mabel’s getting her just desserts—don’t know why she ever married an unstable cheat like Malcolm Parker anyway.” Miss June looked across her lawn to the house with a violent jerk of her head. “He was always bound to take off.”
“But Malcolm was always such a likeable fellow.” Anne rested her chin in one hand and looked thoughtful. “I remember him from when I was just a little girl.”
“Yes, likeable enough, I suppose: He looked like a lamb and spoke like a dragon, to put it as the preacher would. But who could blame him for running off after marrying a fright like Mabel Jenkins?” Miss June’s eyes travelled up to the top balcony of her worn house and seemed to be gazing through the walls to a place inside her dresser where a letter was kept safe, preserved from times long ago. “She never deserved the likes of him anyway.”
“But how terrible to get such a sickness when you’re all alone!” Anne was still thinking of poor Mrs. Parker, not able to see the faraway look in her neighbor’s eyes. “I hope she doesn’t meet the fate several others have already.”“It comes to all of us.” Miss June’s voice hardened again and she moved away from the fence toward her house. “No point in wishing for something that won’t never come true.”