Mainly stuff on mud, growing up and the importance of names.
Oh, and can I just mention: I quite like Anne Of Green Gables. I am not Mary.
A is for Alister
Mom calls him Alister, and his teachers call him Alister – it’d be wrong for them to call him anything else.
Melinda, Mary, Mort – and seriously, what’s with all the Ms in his life? – call him List, and it’d be wrong for them to call him anything else.
When Janie – twenty-seven, blonde-haired, curves in all the right places, a smile that makes you want to go dancing and see how long you can make that joyous flash of straight white teeth last – flicks ash into the the little tray on the corner restaurant table, gives him a grin from under straw-coloured lashes and calls him List, he thinks he may be a little in love.
Huh. He shrugs, grins back gracelessly but genuinely. Shit happens.
B is for Birthday
List and Mary find small, simple gifts on their birthdays, on a desk or by the kettle. Melinda doesn’t always get it right, but mostly she does, and List says that “the effort’s the thing.” She accepts little thanks and no payment in return; she calls them salary bonuses, just ones that aren’t written on their paychecks.
She has a new birthday for every name, but mostly she doesn’t discuss the matter with List or Mary. The birthday is the day she chose each name. She doesn’t discuss it partly because she’s afraid she’ll slip, say something and remember, Oh, that was Aerith, or , No, that was Helen. She doesn’t want to be fussed over and remembered, anyway; she wants to live quietly, simply.
She had a real birthday once. She doesn’t remember it, and she doesn’t particularly care: all that matters is the here, now; forwards, with every step, every year and every beat of her heart.
C is for Childhood
The young girl is caked in dirt, having fallen over in the moors. Mud flakes on her skin from the heat of the fire; she’s staring into the flames silently, unflinchingly. “Why do they want us?” she asks: the men with their swords and their sandals and their shields – she thinks their army looks like a turtle, like some great animal retreating inside its shell. They call themselves clever; she calls them cowardly.
“For slaves,” the druid across the fire, her mentor, tells her matter-of-factly. “For lands to conquer.”
“Ah.” There is a silence before she eventually pipes up, “What is my name?”
The druid chews that over, as if trying to grasp the memory, but finally gives up and tells her, “You don’t have one, girl. Didn’t when you came here.” He thinks. “Pick one, though. Power in that. Control.”
She thinks, then, sitting in the dark with only an old man and a fire for company, and chooses something that rolls off the tongue.
“Aerith,” she says. He nods once, curtly, and then is still.
Aerith watches the flames.
“C’mon, honey, you can do it!”
Elizabeth holds her arms out wide, welcoming and secure, and Alister toddles towards her, surer, faster…
“I’m here,” she says. She doesn’t know whether he even understands all her words, but she hopes that her smile and her tone and the fact that she’s his mother will do. “C’mon.”
Faster, and her son’s smiling now – and then he teeters, falls, his mouth a round little O of shock. She runs to help him, and he looks up, face smudged with dirt and a little mud. He’s obviously debating with himself whether or not to cry – his face starts to crumple, but then he sees the reassuring smile she’s carefully kept on her face for this very situation.
He blinks, startled, and then smiles back at her, wide and chubby-cheeked. Her features are coming out now, his hair and eyes the dark brown of hers; only his slightly-too-big ears and straight nose testify to Denny’s presence in this whole affair.
He’s not quite a late walker, though he will be soon at this rate – she’s determined to get him standing on his own two feet.
“Oh, Alister,” she sighs with a slight shake of her head, her smile never fading.
He grins. “‘List’r,” he babbles back at her.
Well, he’s still learning. “A-list-er,” she enunciates clearly.
“‘List’r,” he retorts, still with the same stubborn, implacable smile. It might well be Denny’s; damn typical that that’s pretty much the only thing he’s left the boy.
Another sigh. “Let’s try one more time. I know you can do this.” She picks him up, his small body squirming excitably in the cage of her arms, and gently places him back on his feet. She takes his hand for a moment, not caring about the smudges of dirt that will be on her palm now. “Ready?”
He nods eagerly; she runs at that, only a couple of feet away from him, and stops, holding out her arms – an embrace ready and waiting. “One more time!” she calls.
He tries again.
Mary goes through a phase of calling her “Mother” and him “Father” to their faces, because of some fancy book she read at school. They hate it.
She tries a different tack: she calls them Mama and Papa, the old-fashioned way – the first syllable quick, the second long and rolled: Muh-mar, Puh-par. They hate that, too. She picked it up from hearing her teacher read some fancy book to the class.
Her mother rolls her eyes. “This ain’t The Secret Garden, Mary-Ann,” she says softly. “There’s no need.”
She’s frustrated. “What do you want to be called, then?”
A little pipe-smoke drifts into her vision from her father’s corner of the room; his little indulgence, something he can afford now the Depression’s loosening its grip just a bit. “Hmm,” he muses.
“What do you want to call us?” her mother asks, like it’s a simple thing, and Mary exhales a little hiss of frustration, because she’s tried that.
“You know,” her father says quietly, “I always liked Ma and Da when I was growing up,” and then they’re Ma and Da.
She’s inherited Da’s penchant for little indulgences: they’re the cheap little paperbacks for her, not the pipe tobacco. She likes it, having things she can be faulted for buying.
She decides soon afterwards that she doesn’t like “Ann.” It’s too boring, too plain, too always-chipper; too Anne Of Green Gables.
She finally drops it when she is sixteen: becomes Mary Coolidge, the name sweet, simple and memorable, a woman where a child used to be. It’s 1942.
D is for Dancing
List does it sometimes, when he thinks they’re not around or not looking: tie swinging with the movement, shuffles and little moves, perfectly polished shoes occasionally squeaking on the wooden floor, when what’s on the radio just makes him move.
She watches him now and again, from the next room or sleepily from her desk. He moves far better than he sings – tall and agile with a good sense of rhythm, he has the makings of grace once this latest awkward growth spurt is over.
She finds him doing the Charleston once, after an exorcism that has left both of them twitchy and over-caffeinated; his tie’s loosened, his suit jacket’s off, and his legs are manic. It’s pretty late, Melinda’s locked herself in her office and isn’t worth checking up on, and Mary finds herself taking his hands and joining him without really meaning to. He’s still covered in demon blood, she’s quite sure her hair will never be the same and she has no idea why the sam hill they’re doing this – but for one fine moment, with the two of them scuffing up Melinda’s floorboards and laughing ’til they can’t quite breathe, all is right with the world.