For this one, anyway, I pulled a book from a shelf. The book turned out to be THE ORANGE FAIRY BOOK, one of Andrew Lang’s wonderful Rainbow Books of fairy tales.
“The duck was always puzzled about that egg”
something was wrong about it
something was different about it
somebody put something in the nest that didn’t belong
something passed from one person to another
something put there only one person would see
girl doing chores?
Why what how
Old woman rather than young? What’s an older name? Names of my grandfather’s generation
People I know 90 or so
Ruby, Phyllis, Ruth, Helen, Geneva, Hazel, Violet, Rose
By Marian Allen
They never let Phyllis McCann out alone, of course. She might talk to somebody. They picked LittleBoy because he had such an innocent face, and made her introduce him as her nephew, come to look after her.
Everybody made over him and asked her wasn’t she lucky and proud to have such a sweet nephew, and she said, “Oh, yes,” but she couldn’t keep the sour out of her voice. She caught the knowing looks that passed between LittleBoy and the people bragging on him, and she knew the gang was having their way, and folks thought she was being “looked after” because she was getting senile.
Which she wasn’t.
The gang had rolled in one dark night while she was out at the pictures with some of the other girls from her bridge club, girls she’d known since junior high almost seventy years ago. She had let herself in the back door, snapped on the light, and there they were: four men sitting around her kitchen table, wearing sunglasses so they wouldn’t get blinded when she turned on the light. She turned to run, and the one she came to know as Branson stepped from where he’d been hiding behind the door and blocked her way.
The short, stocky one stood up from the table. “We don’t have to hurt you. We just need some place to stay for a while. Our car’s broke down and we need a place to stay while we fix it. Soon as it’s running again, we’ll be out of your hair.”
She knew that was a lie as soon as she heard it. She pretended to believe it, though. She went on pretending to believe it, even though nobody ever tinkered with the car. Even though they called each other by name in front of her, talked about jobs they’d done and folks they’d killed, and never let her off the place without LittleBoy – the only one without a mug shot – going with her. Even though they watched the news and didn’t care if she saw their mug shots there, labeled armed and dangerous.
Today was the third week she’d come into town for groceries, with LittleBoy “helping” her.
The new bagger, a grown man (so sad to see grown men bagging groceries, a job for a schoolboy), chatted with her, as usual, while he fumbled with her purchases, moving them from one bag to another. Phyllis kept a wary eye on LittleBoy, knowing he’d get mad if she talked too much, knowing he wouldn’t show it in public, but that he’d pinch her arm until he raised purple welts once they got into the car, and keep it up all the way home.
LittleBoy was only half paying attention, though; the cashier was batting her eyes at him and wiggling her top-floor balcony.
“Miss Phyllis,” the bagger said, casually but in a softer voice, “is your nephew the only one helping you? Do you maybe have some other nephews staying with you?”
“More,” she said, knowing that too much from her would draw LittleBoy’s attention, no matter if the cashier took all her clothes off and did the shimmy-shake.
“How many? Describe them.”
LittleBoy was already turning away from the over-painted gal behind the register.
Phyllis said, “I never buy eggs because I have ducks. I go out before breakfast and gather eggs.”
“Well, that’s as fresh as it gets,” said the bagger.
“Let’s go, Aunt Phyllis,” LittleBoy said, taking her elbow. “You’ll wear yourself out.”
“Thank you, dear,” Phyllis said, patting LittleBoy’s hand but making strong eye contact with the bagger.
That night, Phyllis tore a page out of her diary and wrote out descriptions of the men and the names she’d heard attached to them on television. The next morning, she tucked it into the pocket of her housedress and carried it downstairs. Lewis was on night watch. He finished the newspaper crossword puzzle, wadded up the paper, and tossed it at her.
She unwadded it, said what she knew he wanted her to: “I don’t know how you do it. They ought to call you Professor,” slipped her writing out of her pocket, and wadded the two up into a ball, her writing hidden inside.
She put the crossword ball on top of a small woven basket of paper trash. Every morning, while the man on night watch kept an eye on her from the kitchen doorway, she carried the trash basket out to the burn bin and stopped for eggs on the way back. This morning, she kept out the crossword ball and tucked it under one of the ducks.
Even though she was expecting it, the raid that afternoon was a shock. One minute, she was throwing feed to the ducks; the next minute, there were men and women in those bullet-proof vests everywhere and one of them was hustling her away from the gunfire.
One of the drawbacks of getting old was people believing you might be getting senile. One of the benefits of getting old where you were born and grew up was everybody knowing your habits – and your relatives. So many people tipped off the police about the change in Phyllis, the FBI had to follow up. And so she was rescued. Unharmed. Free to go back to her real life – although she did hire one of her real nephews to come live with her for the sake of her peace of mind.
The duck, though, was always puzzled about that egg.
~ * ~
MY WRITING PROMPT TODAY: The duck was always puzzled about that egg.