{cinda-story} winter&werewolf, pt2

on

{asterisks (*) are where I double space.} Civil critique/commentary welcome.

{intro(see page), 7a (previous part)}

winter & werewolf

Aunt Elise wouldn’t allow Cinda to do Hattie Smithwick’s mending. “She hired a girl who is likely more capable. Besides, I thought you said Mattie was a werewolf.”

“Not a, thewerewolf.”

Aunt Elise didn’t have time. She was Cooking this afternoon. “You will not be saying that around. People might overreact. And isn’t Mattie sad enough now?”

Cinda hated when important things were dismissed out of hand like this. Important things andimportant persons–namely herself.

The phone rang, a shrill cry, just as Cinda opened her mouth to defend herself. She immediately pressed her lips shut.

“Oh, no! Well, good luck.” Elise hung up the phone and banged it against her forehead, once, twice, — “Aunt Elise?”

“Gather up some reading or something. Quick now. You are coming with me.”

“But–”

“Yes, you’re nearly ten, and already trouble.”

Cinda and the Wind competed in a contest of temper on the way to the Public House. Elise Lark felt beaten down, hunched in her coat, ducking into the front door of Forty-Two.

There was no school because the weather looked particularly bad today; Linus Withers could hardly walk. Felix Kinley was perched at the bar beside Barney and Giselle and Titus Thomas. There wasn’t much work either because the regulars were early and occupying their tables.

Cinda slouched off to a spot against the wall, under a portrait oftown founder Calder Kinley standing on one of the rock outcroppings (Myrddin’s Toes) pointing toward an oncoming storm which also looked like hundreds of pirate ship sails at a distance.He looked like a raving lunatic or impassioned politician, Cinda could never tell the difference. Fox had many a story for that painting; which were true or false, no one could tell the difference, not even Fox.

Cinda was about to unravel when Jake Kinley appeared at her shoulder. “Cinda, good, still bundled.” He paused a moment to look at her feet, specifically at the state of her hand-me-down boots. “Come with me. You can leave your bag behind the bar.”

Cinda couldn’t not follow her Aunt’s boss, but she could ask what he was about. “Well, I could use some extra hands bringing some provisions from the storeroom down the alley to the storeroom in the back. My staff is busy, and–.” They arrived at the storeroom in the back. “You know Felix, Barney, Titus, and Giselle? Good. Now, the alley gets a bit slippery.”

“Wouldn’t want her to fall on her — backside, eh, Mr. Kinley?” That this was Titus assured Cinda the others had spread the joke around. What was worse though was when Mr. Kinley picked up a pair of nice red boots near the door. “My Dahlia’s boots should fit.

“Casey should be over there already with the list. Just carry what you can.”

Cinda shucked her boots and found some relief in the fact her socks didn’t have holes. But it took her time to tighten the woman’s boots to her smaller narrower feet. Actually, that it took time to get the nerve to put them on was the real issue.

“What is it this time? You’ve a thing about red shoes?”

A hundred scenarios flitted through Cinda’s mind. She clung to the one where she got the scar from a broken bottle left in the alley that she slipped and fell upon after drop kicking Giselle in the face.
Cinda looked at the boots and willed them blue, like the summery shade of her socks, or like the color her toes are sure to turn soon. Felix interrupted the laughter with the swinging open of the outer door.

Come on, guys, I’ll show you the other storeroom.”

Cinda had her boots on, treading carefully, and pretending they were blue when the four came up the alley toward her, two with hand trucks and two with a box each. And so it went, Cinda passing them in turns moving stock from one storeroom to the other. A tremulous situation at first as Cinda had a box and they had none, and it was slippery and her hands were full and–”Don’t even think it Barney, She’s got my da’s stuff.” “And it’s not like she needs the help falling,” Giselle added with a cackle.

After the last trip, with Casey beside her and the four already returned to the bar, Cinda sighed as she shuck the red boots and put on her own. No physical wounds to the dorsal area. She put the red boots back in their place with a friendly pat and that was when she heard someone cry out. Casey swung the outer door open to find Matthew Smithwick fallen on the ice just two doors down. Apparently he preferred taking the alleyways to the thoroughfares, despite there being known dangers.

Casey helped him up and Cinda just stared. Matthew Smithwick was about as old as her father, but not nearly so old looking. He was soft and smooth, though not in a plump boyish way, just well preserved–and hairless. Cinda wanted to see his hands, but he wore mittens of all things. And he wasn’t coming into Forty-Two because Casey’d asked if he wanted to cut through. No, he was going to limp home, to his Seasonally Arthritic mother.
*

“I heard you were a big help earlier,” Aunt Elise smiled. They sat together over plates of pie, the kind with savory ingredients and no carrots. “And with the other kids. Making friends?” Aunt Elise desperately wanted her to have friends in Calder, friends under the age of 60, and/or un-related.
Cinda occupied her mouth with her drink. And then Felix Kinley interrupted–politely. He had a slice of chocolate whip pie for Cinda, “for helping earlier.” Like the hot cider she didn’t drink.

Her Aunt’s toe connected with her shin and Cinda said, “Thanks.” He nodded stiffly and left.

“Your manners are digressing, young lady. Shall we revisit some of our lessons?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good. Now–what? Aren’t you going to eat the pie? I thought you were a fiend for chocolate whip.”

“Well, then I shouldn’t be a fiend, should I? Besides, I’m nearly full up on this delicious bangars and mash.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have it either,” though Aunt Elise looked at it longingly. “Need to watch my figure.” Which she did, religiously. She’d even taken to doing some of Cinda’s morning stretches.

Cinda hoped her Aunt wouldn’t try to eat the pie, because she didn’t want to share her suspicion:  that one or all of any four persons now sitting at a corner booth likely spit on it; which was really too bad because Cinda really did like chocolate whip pie.
*

The storm whipped through just as Aunt Elise slipped the bolt home. Janet and Mem were safely ensconced and the provisions stocked. They played games and read by candlelight for four days. After that, Cinda didn’t even huff at the order that she would have to go to Forty-Two with Aunt Elise.
It was there they’d heard the news. It was gruesome; needless to say it was just like before. Right behind her house. And the her? The very same girl Hattie Smithwick had hired for the mending and other menial tasks; although it was rumored Betty Dorsey had drawn the line at clipping toe nails. Cinda went to the powder room and cried in the far stall, and then moved to the third when she spied Betty’s name inked onto the wall.

Cinda hunted down her Aunt in the kitchen after the red in her face had mostly faded. “Please, may I go see Aunt Siri?”

Aunt Elise looked at Cinda as if her horns were showing. “Haven’t you heard–?”

Jake Kinley happened to overhear, “Felix and I will walk her over, Elise. We’ve an appointment with Haddix.”

Elise relented, but she debated over the issue of allowing Cinda to accept the generous offer of Mrs. Kinley’s red boots. Jake Kinley was as persuasive as Cinda had dreaded he’d be. “Alright, hurry now Cinda; don’t want Mr. Kinley to be late.”

The boots didn’t have time to be blue, but she made it to Aunt Siri’s house without a scar-inducing wound. “Heard your father and Fox are in Tatterlin. Sounds brilliant, and warm.” Cinda nodded. She missed them terribly. It had been three weeks now and she hoped a letter would arrive. The telegram had not been enough, and besides it was getting worn from all the trips out from beneath her pillow.

“Why didn’t you go with ‘em, South?” Felix Kinley asked, huddling in the chill, standing an affectionate distance to his father. Cinda trailed.

Because they thought it would be safer here, Cinda answered inwardly, and laughed. She pulled the scarf that spanned her mouth and nose tighter, and shrugged.

“Probably thought Cinda would like to be home for a bit,” Mr. Kinley speculated. Felix looked over his shoulder at her again, looking for confirmation. Her thick lashes scrinched to protect her dark brown eyes, her brows straight dark slashes beneath the edge of her knit hat. That was all he would see and they said nothing.
*

Aunt Siri had a visitor, an official looking gentleman despite his rugged outdoors clothing. “Meet Mr. Timberland, Cinda Blackfeather Wyatt.” Who was removing her boots.

“Ah, a Traveller then,” He smiled, and shook her hand.

“Mr. Timberland is a friend of my great-grandson Rory who is an Inspector in Bellport.” Aunt Siri gestured to the west wall of family portraits. Family portraits and small painted plates filled the walls of Aunt Siri’s cottage. Some plates held portraits and those were featured above the mantle on either side a massive painting of a pirate, Siri’s first husband.

“Mr. Timberland came up this morning, but I invited him before the storm. To check in on a few things.”

“I did what research I could, with what you gave me in the interview over the wire.” His bottle green eyes turned to Cinda. “Now I am here to observe, and divine anything from this latest, and most regrettable, murder.”

“Betty must have forgotten the moon, what with the storm. Poor girl, opening her door to a monster.”

“–who everyone sees as an innocent.” Cinda growled.

“—Could’ve thought it was some emergency.” Mr. Timberland finishing the thread. “Small town, only neighbors now with it being Winter. I hope, we’ve a bit of time if pattern holds. And I’ve got work. A pleasure to meet you Miss Blackfeather Wyatt.”

The tall stranger pulled on his heavy wool coat and picked up a case left near the door. He saw himself out. Cinda stared after him.

“He’s good, he is, Mr. Timberland. He has a reputation for this kind of thing. You’ve been leaving it alone?”

Cinda nodded. She hadn’t done anything but change her dog-walking routes to pass by Hattie Smithwick’s house; which yielded nothing but the daily horror of overhearing the woman’s squawking voice and noticing a motionless silhouette at the second floor window.

“Now, tell me a cheerful story.”

“Okay, but first, are boots considered shoes? or are they exempt?” Cinda had been interviewing everyone on the matter. 72 % said yes they were, 4 % no.

“Had you ever thought of them as shoes before?” Aunt Siri asked. She knew to what Cinda was referring.

“It is going to hurt. I am sure of it.”

“Yes, but you don’t know it will. Now, we are going to be cheerful.”
*

“There was once a girl who’d lost her hands. She didn’t just misplace them in her sleep or in her rush off the train leave them in the seat. Her father had chopped them off in trade for something because he was a selfish fool.

“It wasn’t like she would have someone at home to be her hands for her and the boy she loved suddenly saw her as an embarrassment, so there was nothing left but to run away.”

“This is not a cheerful story, Cinda.”

“Well, it ends well. She finds love again with a man who fashions beautiful hands for her. But that isn’t the end, of course, because the real happiness is after she has to go away on her own with her children and find the hands she’d lost restored.”

“This is not the sort of cheerful story I had hoped for.”

Cinda tried again, this time with a story involving a mad tea party and they had a good laugh.

“Reminds me of my Sister Daisy’s dinner parties,” Siri smiled before drifting off in memory and then eventually sleep.

Cinda slipped on the red boots and slipped out the door. When she got to the end of the front walk she turned around and slipped back in. The cause? Matthew Smithwick was standing across the small lane, facing Siri Laramore’s house like a store mannequin.

Cinda slipped out of her boots and double-checked the locks on every door and window.
*

“Did you meet Aunt Siri’s handsome friend Mr. Timberland?” Aunt Elise asked Cinda at breakfast the next day.

“The mustachioed one?” She liked to fit “mustachioed” in where she could. Cinda lifted a bit of her low side-winder and tucked it above her lip.

Aunt Elise chuckled. uh-oh. Cinda rarely saw the resemblance between Janet and her mother, except for moments such as these. It was the blush and flutter of lashes.

“He was at the Forty-Two last night and Coral Inman mentioned seeing him at Aunt Siri’s house.”

“Doesn’t make ‘em friends.” Cinda mumbled.

“What’s the secret, Cinda-story?” Elise girlishly rested her chin on her hand, brows raised.

Cinda thought to negotiate–it was sudden and exhilarating, “It will cost you.” Perhaps she could get out of going to Norma Salesmith’s cat infested house.

“Nae,” Aunt Elise huffed, standing. “I’ll just hear all about it at the Pub.” The place where if anything was to be known could be found–except, of course, the identity of a neighborhood killer.

“Must not be a regular,” was Elise’s answer when Cinda pointed out the flaw.

“Is Matthew Smithwick a regular?” Cinda returned; which had Aunt Elise frowning.

“Never was. Not at The Silky Seal anyway. His mum would never hear of it, especially after Alyssa Haines, God rest her soul, rejected Mattie. And well, then she died and–. You know, Cinda-story, Winter is proving scary enough without your wild imagination. I’m going to the Pub. Gather your stuff and I’ll walk you to Norma’s.”
*

Cinda brushed the cat hair from her as she waded through the drifts. Just because the school was closed, her schedule did not alter. Mem disappeared off to Rafe’s and Janet to her best girlfriend Nancy’s. Cinda’s only days off coincided with Aunt Elise’s days off and they spent them at Cousin Ivy’s house or Cousin Ira’s–neither of whom had twelve cats and only four small rooms (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room). Cinda was supposed to help Ms. Salesmith clean those four rooms, but mostly the old woman was lonely, even with all those cats.

Cinda had worked on “cheerful” stories that had not even a hint of mutilation or blood or broken-heartedness or shoes. She felt limited, but challenged. Ms. Salesmith approved the effort.

Out of habit, Cinda stopped at the corner to look both ways. No one was out. They would all be at a Public House if not forced into chore-work or shut-in by a “sadness.” No one was walking about but for her and Matthew Smithwick who was standing on the corner opposite holding the leash to what Cinda couldn’t see behind the drifts. He smiled baby teeth and waved at her.

Cinda nodded and waved, burrowed into her scarf, and turned up the walk. From that moment the chill sank into permanence. She could see his eyes, the air so painfully crisp. His eyes were not so slow-witted as his grin and wave.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Leslie Darnell

“winter & werewolf” last part 3

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