Life on the little farm went on, mostly oblivious to the continued interest of the town gossips. Kelly and Genevieve were so wrapped up in the process of rebuilding their lives that they didn’t yet have the time for building a new social world, out side of the occasional dinner at Louise Kelly’s home.
Eileen did all the shopping in town for the family, and she was so closed mouthed that the wags around the courthouse took to calling her, “The Sphinx of the Old Post Farm.” Genevieve was seen from time to time at yard sales and at thrift stores with her pretty nephew, but no one was able to engage her in more than light conversation.
It was the talk of the town that Kelly had hired a manager for the farm and planned on making it into a profitable working farm. Unlike the other farmers in the area, he didn’t seem to be interested in single crop mass-production to be sold at market. The farm now boasted a truck-garden that was far too large for such a small family, but Kelly wasn’t sending the produce into town to the makeshift farmer’s market on the square.
There was talk that a panel truck came from out-of-town every day and that a fat man walked around the truck gardens pointing here and there at several things, which were picked in the early hours of the morning and loaded up in the truck that was fitted with a cooling unit. There was even talk that the fat man came all the way from Dallas, every day, but who would need so much produce every day?
There was talk that there was more than one fat man, and more than one cooled truck. Most of the hands who worked on the Kelly’s farm were just as silent as the faithful Eileen, but sometimes they let things slip. The number of lambs, piglets, and fowl that were being harvested didn’t add up for the small family.
No one seemed to think to just ask Kelly what he was up to on the farm. They watched the activities of Kelly and his hands, and speculated, at times quite wildly. Talking and noting every time that Kelly did something or instated some practice that the other farmers didn’t do, which filled them with wonder.
Mae Cooper was a simple woman. She wanted to find out about the family and the farm, so she just made up a basket of small gifts, drove out and knocked on the door.
“Mae Cooper, I hear that you have been visiting the Old Post place and spending a lot of time with that city woman, Kelly Archie married and brought back from New York,” Emily Dawson said, spitting out the words city and New York as if she were trying to expel something bitter from her mouth, shifting her toddler grandchild from one hip to the other.
“No, not a lot of time, I took Woody over to play with Alexis today,” Mae said briefly, anticipating the joy of making Emily, who was proud of her depth of knowledge among the town gossips, dig every detail out of her.
“You just up and went over there; Taking your baby with you? Just like that?” she asked, shocked that Mae would impose on the new family in that way, even though the Archies had been living at the Old Post farm for over two years.
“No, not just like that! I made up a welcome basket and took it over,” Mae said, miffed that the older woman would accuse her of such bad manners.
“A welcome basket two years late,” Emily observed, drily.
“Oh, I just told her that since I too was expecting at the time, they moved here that I well understood the last thing she wanted was too many visitors while she was moving into a new home and preparing for her baby. I told her that I was too worn down by my baby to come visit when she first came to town, to make a visit. I said that since it took me about a year after Woody was born to catch my breath, I figured she would be about ready for visitors now that her baby was nearing one year,” Mae said.
“How did she take that?” Emily prompted.
“She laughed and invited me into the kitchen. We drank some very good coffee and ate some of Eileen Giffin’s excellent cake. You should have seen that cake. It wasn’t one that she makes for the fairs. She used a recipe that Genevieve gave her and some exotic oil from San Francisco,” Mae said, her mouth watering at the memory. “We talked for a long time, and while we talked one of us … well I guess it was me … came up with the idea of the babies playing together.”
“Does Kelly’s wife have a New York accent? I hear she is from New York?” Emily asked, not much interested in the babies, having heard from the old men on the courthouse benches, conflicting views of the subject of Genevieve’s voice. Emily who prided herself for having better information than the old men, was on a hunt to find out all about Kelly Archie’s strange life and had been thwarted when Genevieve was less than conversational with the garden club and church women who visited as soon as the family moved into the Old Post Place. She was further hampered by Eileen’s taciturn loyalty to her employers.
“No, I noticed right away that her voice didn’t sound like the characters you see on Naked City. As a matter of fact, it seems like she really doesn’t have an accent, so I asked her. She said she was from California!” Mae paused for effect.
“California!” Emily exclaimed, aghast, before Mae could continue.
“Yes, California! Can you imagine what a fuss Napoleon would have cut up if he knew that his only son married a California Yankee?” Mae asked, knowing in her heart that California Yankees were the worst sort.
“Oh, dear yes! I mean after all, remember the way he cut up about that unpleasantness before the war,” Emily said, referring to WWII as the war much as her parents in their day referred to the First World War.
“Yes, I remember. I ran into Kelly out at Quality Feed & Seed, a while back and mentioned to him something about that situation before the war, and he looked at me like I kicked his dog and said, “We do not talk about those things.” He was all haughty, like he was royalty, and I was a scullery maid that overstepped my bounds!” Mae said, thinking about a scene she once read in a romance novel, which she picked up on the sly at the drugstore one day. Not wanting the owner to know that she read bodice-rippers, she slipped the book in her purse without paying. Unknown to Mae, a charge was added to Woodrow’s bill each month for the things that she picked up at the drugstore.
“Kelly sure does seem to be standoffish since he came back to town. He has taken on a lot of city airs,” Emily said, shifting the wiggling child again, and whispering some small promise of a treat in return for good behavior for a little longer.
“Maybe he gets it from Genevieve,” Mae said, enjoying rolling the exotic name off her tongue.
“So, you are on first name bases?” Emily asked, finally acknowledging the familiar manner Mae used to refer to Mrs. Archie.
“Oh, yes, of course, after all she asked me to call her Genevieve. She said that Mrs. Archie was Louise. But what I was saying about her being so standoffish about the past. I just casually mentioned Kelly’s father’s business, to her, and she hushed me,” Mae continued.
“Oh, now that wasn’t very polite,” Emily said, thinking to take some of the gloss off of Mae’s obvious admiration of the city woman.
“Oh, No, Genevieve said it in a nice way, saying, Let the dead bury their dead, whatever that means, and smiled very sweetly, like she was my best friend,” Mae said, still stinging from Genevieve’s honeyed rebuff, but not about to let the other woman see that her new friend hurt her feelings.
“I guess she doesn’t know that you set your hat for him before he got away from you and took off,” Emily said, smirking, implying that Mae’s determination chased Kelly away from Misty. “Well, I must be going, and get this little one back to her mother!”
“Bitch!” Mae whispered, under her breath, as she watched the older woman walk down the dusty sidewalk, wishing that she dared not be friends with Emily, but knowing that Emily knew way too much about her and Kelly to make an enemy of her.
It was one of those quiet Texas sunsets, where the stillness of the muggy afternoon was just beginning to give way to the activity of the frogs, crickets, and fireflies, as the sun slipped past the horizon, leaving the sapphire sky streaked with bands of orange radiating out from the edges of the clouds. Genevieve and Kelly sat wedged together in the large bent-willow chair that was favored by Brother Milstead as the only comfortable chair in the Archies’ home, leaving the glider unoccupied least the sound of its gentle squeaking wake the baby upstairs. Before joining her husband on the veranda for cocktails, Genevieve opened the window to Alexis’ room wide, not only to let in the breeze, but to let her parents hear if she should wake.
“So, Mae brought little Woody to play with Alexis? Aren’t they too young for that sort of thing? Isn’t Woody about a year older too?” Kelly asked, when she finished telling him how she spent her day, while he was off at the sales, looking for a new breeding sow.
Genevieve nodded about the babies’ ages, as she took the last sip of her cocktail and placed the empty glass on the small table next to the chair, and said, “Well, I would have thought so, but you know, they were quite fascinated with each other’s hands and feet. It was so cute when they were walking and falling down. It looked like they were in competition to stay on their feet the longest. Which reminds me, now that Alexis is walking; climbing up on things as high as the window-seat won’t be too far behind. Could you please install those safety bars over Alexis’ windows tomorrow?”
“Of course, the paint on them is dry. I thought young Mr. Elbert did a real nice job on the wrought iron. How did you come to invite Mae over?” Kelly asked.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She dropped by last week with a belated welcome basket. I thought it was so nice that she waited to let us settle in before coming to get a good look at me. Of course, at the time she was busy getting ready for her own baby. She seems like a very nice person, so I arranged with her bringing Woody over,” Genevieve said, looking at the sky and running over in her mind the pigments she would mix to reproduce that sky in a future canvas.
“No, you didn’t mention it. I saw the basket, but assumed it was the church ladies after you again,” Kelly responded, looking slightly worried, “I am just surprised that of all people you would be friendly with Mae.”
Genevieve seeing the look said lightly. “Oh, don’t worry, I didn’t let on that you told me all about her, and the two of you.”
“But, your painting?” Kelly prompted, wanting to change the subject away from his past.
“Oh, I am not working on anything important right now. I figured it wouldn’t hurt for her to see what I did in my spare time and satisfy her curiosity. After all the gossips around town know full well, I don’t spend it housekeeping or working outside. Now Mae can go back and talk about the pretty picture I am painting,” Genevieve said, smiling at the memories of Mae gushing over the still life she was working on, more to experiment with layering paints than to get a sellable image. “You know Kelly, I have an idea …,” Genevieve’s voice trailed off as she wiggled out of the chair, and gaining her footing hopped lightly onto the railing of the veranda and looked at her husband while she thought about how to phrase her idea, without being too condescending to life in the small town … Kelly’s small town.
“Thinking about what dear?” Kelly asked, enjoying the sight of her slim figure silhouetted against the fading light of the western sky.
“I was thinking I should take the canvasses that are too banal for New York, to the county arts and crafts show. It seems to me that being a mediocre artist in this small town might be my best cover for my real work,” Genevieve said, failing completely to temper her words. “Of course, I won’t sign them G. R. Davis like my other works.”
“That my dear is a very good idea. It will take some of the crowding out of your storage room too. How did Alexis take to being with another child?” Kelly asked, wishing that he were home to see the meeting.
“Strangely solemn, you should have seen her, she was like a queen receiving an emissary from a foreign court. It was so cute,” Genevieve said, a satisfied smile spreading over her face, sure that her little girl was the most perfect that ever graced the earth.
“Did you film it?” He asked, at once glad that his wife was experimenting in film as an extension of her artistic expression, though he was sure that her artistic expression would be mainly focused on the story of Alexis.
“Oh yes, I can’t wait until we get the film back from the developers so you can see it,” she responded, excitedly sure that her film production would be as perfect as her child.
“Oh, you finished that reel?” he asked, wondering what else she found to film in their daughter’s life. At least he hoped it was all about Alexis. He hoped that she hadn’t just spent one morning filming the wind blowing grass or something of the sort.
“Yes, I put it in the mail this morning,” she said, hopping down from the rail and drawing Kelly up from the willow chair. “I can’t wait for you to see the whole thing.”
“I can’t wait either, but I guess we’ll just have too,” Kelly said, putting his arms around his wife and rocking her slightly as the two looked off at last rays of the departed sun fading from the sky, before they turned to head upstairs to their bed.