Note for readers
This story sprang from an idea:
... and even had a comment from "Ralph" before it was really underway:
Mr. Higham, it is fascinating reading a story as it is coming alive. I will continue to check back in to see how Miss Magnolia fares.
Story now completed.
'Have a look at that lady going by, Chas,' said Ken Young to his visitor from England, just arrived, bag hastily dumped in his bedroom, now back in the front room with the polished floor and rug, 'the one with the baby boy in the push chair and the toddler girl walking beside her.'
'The pretty one or that one over by the store?’
‘The pretty one - pink and soft greys, cuddly, brownish hair. Now smelling the blossom on that low hanging branch. Now the toddler’s smelling it and the baby wants out of that push chair.’
'Butter wouldn't melt.'
‘That’s where you’d be wrong. She notices fine detail, that one, a bit like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple … only younger. Sharp as anything and yet meanders, becomes interested in things and goes off on tangents. Former Azalea Trail girl - you know about them?’
‘I’ve heard about them – they dress in antediluvian outfits, huge hooped dresses -’
‘Antebellum, Chas, not antediluvian ... pre Civil War. Have a look at this over here, news item from your part of the world.’ He went to the laptop, found the article and clicked:
'I call her Miss Magnolia,' Ken went on. 'One of a dying breed. Being a lady does not always mean the disapproving look - this one has a mischievous look. Keep your eye on her for now and consider this – not long ago, she was late for a luncheon, didn’t want to make the grand entrance, so climbed up the outside of the building and in through the open gap, seated herself while others were looking out for her the other way.’
‘Yep. Another tale - strolling with her husband by the river one afternoon, some rude girls blocking the way, she was about to give one of them a quick nudge into the water, he apparently convinced her not to. You don’t mess with Miss Magnolia.’
‘You say Miss Magnolia. They're her grandchildren?’
‘They are. It's just an expression. She’s one of the old breed, manners, part of this corner of the south, resents the crass carpetbaggers buying in – that’s my expression, not hers. These people are bringing their culture with them - a culture they're supposed to be escaping from, figure that one out. There’s a world culture taking over, Chas ... and it doesn't look good.’
‘And she’s opposed? Then she’s in danger.’
‘Very much so, I keep telling her to lie low. That’s why, with all the eyes watching as she goes by, some of those eyes are looking out for her, we’d be out there like a shot. But she hates people fussing over her and ‘protecting’ her.’
'You sound as if you care for her.'
'Many do, many depend on her ... and yet she's so cute and well ... enough of that.'
‘But other eyes are planning something more grisly for her you think?’
‘You’d have to think so – there are some nasty things around these parts lately – sirens, helicopter, planes overhead most times – something’s going down. In fact that’s why Virginia and I have taken this place, it’s why, when you said you were coming to the States, you were always going to be coerced down here by us.’
Chas looked across at the greying mass of hair and was intrigued. ‘I’m thinking the reason she doesn’t want to be crowded is she has other things going on. I’m thinking she’s carrying something in that baby carriage.’
‘You guessed right,’ grinned the retired lawyer. ‘But I still don’t think you’ve hit it yet, what she has there. It’s not an Armalite, nor an Uzi, it’s something more hi-tech that I don’t know, it’s vaguely involved in sending pulses.’
‘Or blocking them. I know of these things. Remind me not to get into an argument with her.’
‘You won’t meet her. Also, she hates being put on pedestals, says if she fell down, she might damage something.’
‘Where’s she headed now?’
‘Place called Foley, there’s a monument in Centennial Plaza, epicentre for all the activity going on overhead. Have a quick look at this printout:’ He stepped over to the laptop and brought this up:
‘Rendition? The planes I mean.’
‘Could be, among other things. We think there's something else going down, which is where you come in. There've been many things happening - land sold off, change of designated purpose. If you take out the commercial and light aircraft, you still have a pretty regular back and forth - more than standard flights I mean.’
Chas was reflecting. ‘She can’t walk the toddler and also push the walker all that way.’
‘They’ll be met a bit further along, she’s just been checking in with me.’
‘Has she just? I’ll resist the temptation to ask how - you've had no call.’
‘Quite right. Time for lunch.’
Chas now met the diminutive Virginia - unusual that it had taken so long to meet her and immediately his suspicions were raised. If anything, he'd have said she was at home in this kitchen/diner and Ken was less at home in the living room. Curious. Plus she was about thirty years younger, maybe less. Quite curious indeed.
And another thing - normally if someone visits and there are people home, those people would come to greet the visitor but in Virginia’s case ... she hadn’t. What’s more, she’d remained as quiet as a little mouse, keeping her own counsel and yet here was this scrumptious lunch of gumbo and various bits and pieces, plus a winning smile. An interesting character - he'd not want to cross her either.
The two men went out to the back ‘yard’, except it was not so much a yard as a riverfront, with one interesting aspect, around this neighbourhood anyway – no dock, nowhere to tie up. Not only that but there were no table and chairs on the grass but instead a U shaped brick wall some three yards along the short sides, four yards along the side nearest the house and about six feet high.
They had to walk around that to get into the space.
Inside, there was an electric barbecue against one of the short walls, table and chairs near the other short wall - over the brickwork was a lattice of fine wire. Ken went over to an alcove, reached into a hatch in the wall, took out three pieces of material, synthetic, yet modern, hi-tech fabric as strong as steel, but in the form of a squarish scarf, he handed one to Chas and another to Virginia who’d just come to join them with the drinks.
‘Er … how to wear this?’ asked Chas.
‘You’ve never seen westerns?’ she replied.
‘Tea?’ she asked.
Her guest grinned because there was no question whether he’d like it or not, whether he needed sugar or not - it was now poured from the jug with the ice cubes and that was that.
‘Plenty more inside,’ she added. Uh huh.
Ken explained. ‘There are different parties around this area, Chas - different groups, different demographics – if you’ve already looked at a map of the US and Caribbean, it’d be obvious this is a prime corridor for "non-regular visitors". Plus we have hurricanes. We’re smack bang in the middle of it – it seems a pastoral scene ... truth is ... it’s more like Beirut.
What makes it worse is that even the straightest acting people, the nicest – they could be the ones – Magnolia calls them Pod People. I don’t mean from outer space … at least I didn’t mean that earlier … now I’m not so sure. We’ve had rogue outfits before, of course we have, splinter groups who felt things were not tight enough, the agenda wasn't going forward fast enough – that’s always been … this is different. There are different parties interested in this area now, more than before.’
‘You mean,’ said Chas, ‘difficult to know whom to trust these days?’
‘That's what it comes down to,' put in Virginia. 'Keep watching, Chas, watch the river. More tea?’ She poured it, irrespective. Truth was, it was required in this heat.