It's been a good morning of writing. This is pretty fresh. I have only had one look at it. Here goes...
Song of Circe
Circe was the translator mostly. Mrs. Nonnie had lost her voice to a stroke as a young woman—33. Her husband Clovis left her after that, so Mrs. Nonnie’s daddy had sent Circe over to her, Circe being trained as a nurse and all. People would have said that Circe was Mrs. Nonnie’s maid or housekeeper. Folks thought like that. What Mrs. Nonnie really thought? Who knew, since she only made sounds like whale squeals? Mrs. Nonnie could whistle, not a tune, but a couple of tones. She could make a sound like a high-pitched duck by sucking on her cheek. Her larynx and vocal cords were intact, but the stroke had left the muscles in her mouth slack and unresponsive. But Circe could understand most everything that would come up. Early on, they had worked with Circe saying words and Mrs. Nonnie repeating them until she had as much use as she was going to have out her lips and tongue. After 20 years, Circe understood Mrs. Nonnie’s new language as well as she knew English and French. Circe had a knack for language that had come in handy. Nursing was practical. It was something that didn’t shock white people to see black hands wiping noses and adjusting pillows, tending to their patients as their ancestors done for generations of owners, then employers.
Mr. Frankline put the documents in front of Mrs. Nonnie. He knew she would be able to make her mark and so would need to have several witnesses, none of whom were involved in the transaction to say that the squiggle was indeed put there by Mrs. Nonnie and not Mr. Frankline.
“Ma’am, I’ll be right back. I need to round up some witnesses for the signature.”
Mrs. Nonnie flapped her left hand and mumbled. Circe handed her the stack of documents, and Mrs. Nonnie fumbled with them.
Circe heard the manager hustling two customers into the room. A large farmer entered to stand by the wall. He squeezed his gray fedora, and held his elbows in close to the dress shirt he had probably put on just for the bank trip. Everything about him said farmer, despite the crispness of his shirt. His companion was sharply dressed, and he immediately lounged in the only chair available.
A woman called out to Mr. Frankline. He poked his head in the door. “You all hold on a minute. I got to attend to something out here.” He hissed words to the teller who had summoned him. His words faded.
Circe handed a handkerchief to Mrs. Nonnie, who had a perpetually drippy nose. Often a little pearl of clear fluid would hang on the tip. Circe kept handkerchiefs, Vicks cough drops, lip balm, and other sundries in a woven bag. Mrs. Nonnie couldn’t handle a purse.
Mrs. Nonnie swiped at her nose with her right hand, and the papers slipped a bit in her lap. Circe stopped them from falling and took the handkerchief from Mrs. Nonnie’s fluttering fingers.
Mr. Frankline arrived back in the room. “Well, now. We have our witnesses. Mrs. Nonnie, this is Frank Lisle and Mr. Larry Jones from down at Clarion’s Department Store.”
Mrs. Nonnie flapped her right hand in their direction and moaned a sound. Circe took the papers to keep them from falling.
The men nodded their greeting. Mr. Frankline continued, “Now, you men are here to witness this fine lady’s signature on some important documents. We have to take good care of Mrs. Nonnie. Why, her daddy was the finest farmer in this county.” Mr. Frankline posed and bustled about between his customer and the witnesses. “You boys heard of Mr. John Cuthbert, I’d imagine. No. Well, you wouldn’t, Larry. You haven’t been here so long. He was a fine man, and Mrs. Nonnie is one of our cherished citizens.” He returned to his chair behind the desk, smoothing his Brylcreemed hair.
Mrs. Nonnie chirped and clicked.
“Now, let’s get these papers signed, what say?” Mr. Frankline looked reached into his inner suit pocket, brought out a fine Mont Blanc fountain pen, and uncapped it as though he were about to sprinkle holy water from its rich interior.
Circe slipped the papers quickly back into Mrs. Nonnie’s lap and with one movement, pinched Mrs. Nonnie hard on the outside of her thigh.
Mrs. Nonnie erupted in a string of whines and snorts, slapping at the papers and Circe’s hand.
“What in the world? Why, Mrs. Nonnie…” Mr. Frankline hopped to his feet.
Circe bent down and looked deeply into Mrs. Nonnie’s face. Mrs. Nonnie flapped at Circe’s arm, hardly disturbing the fabric of Circe’s green sweater.
“Mrs. Nonnie, you mean the papers?” Circe asked. Circe turned to the banker. “She says something about these here papers and a rat or a rate or something.” Circe turned back to Mrs. Nonnie, who was wailing and singing away. “Mrs. Nonnie, where you mean? Here?” Circe pointed to the paper. “Here, you mean? This here number?” Circe pointed to the paper in the same spot.
Mrs. Nonnie stopped her moans and clicks and looked hard where Circe was pointing. She snatched the papers from her own lap with her best hand and swung them in an arc in front of the banker’s desk. She chirped and growled for a long time.
“Mr. Frankline, sir, Mrs. Nonnie, she say this here paper got a mistake on it in some kind of rate. I think she mean this here figure.” Circe drew in her shoulders and dropped her head a bit as she pointed to the rate of interest paid to the depositor.
Mr. Frankline jowls reddened in blotches. “Well, let me see. A mistake. Why, I don’t know.” He took the papers. Mrs. Nonnie squealed and clicked. The banker’s face caught the red glow from his fleshy neck and spread it up towards his hairline as though the shame of his being caught was shining for all in the room to see. He cleared his throat and tugged at his collar, which bit into the ample scarlet fat roll in a more pronounced way for the comparison to his white shirt.
“Mrs. Nonnie. I do see the error here. I am deeply ashamed that our clerk has made such a terrible mistake. I’ll see to him, I promise. Now, hmmm, uh. I will have to go out to get this fixed right quick. I get Sarah to bring ya’ll in some coffee.”
Mrs. Nonnie grunted and licked her mouth.
Circe reached into her bag for a Chapstick. “Mrs. Nonnie has had all her coffee for the day. She say she would like a cool glass of water though.”
Mrs. Nonnie snorted.
“Well, I will have that brought right in. Gentlemen, if you can wait?”
The two witnesses didn’t move. The farmer’s eyes were big and round, his head sweeping the room to record all that he was seeing.
Mr. Jones pursed his lips and lounged deeper into the chair. “I’m glad to stay to help out Mrs. Nonnie.”
Mrs. Nonnie stuck her tongue out as Circe applied the lip balm to her patient’s tissue-thin lips.
The rest of the visit passed unremarkably as Mr. Frankline expedited the typing of another paper with the larger interest rate. Sarah bustled about in a tight brown pencil skirt topped by a beige sweater set. The bend of her hips as she set the coffee tray on the desk for the witnesses caused the only momentary excitement as Mr. Jones—why thank you, Sarah, my name is Larry—sat up straighter and brushed his stubby fingers against the receptionist’s long white ones.
Mrs. Nonnie turned her head towards Circe at the sight of that and rolled her eyes. Circe turned to hide a grin, smoothing her short groomed black hair and scratching absently at her neck. Mrs. Nonnie snorted.
Later, after an apologetic Mr. Frankline had helped settle Mrs. Nonnie into her Plymouth Belvedere sedan, he firmly closed the door with both hands, still mumbling goodbyes. Circe got behind the wheel and watched the big banker wipe his neck with a handkerchief as he returned to the bank.
Mrs. Nonnie whistled, snorted, and whined.
Circe put the car into gear and backed out. “You would have seen it when you signed.”
Mrs. Nonnie snorted and flapped her bad left hand wildly toward Circe.
“Well, I was afraid he would cover it up with his big paws.”
Mrs. Nonnie sniffed and sang. She waited. Then she whined out her first clear word in two weeks, “Why?”
“You know very well why.” Circe cut her eyes momentarily at her patient as she glanced both ways at the stop sign on Walnut. “He couldn’t hear me if I spoke in any other way. His ears can’t process intelligent words from a woman, especially a Negro. Besides, I don’t want him to think you are non compos mentis.”
Mrs. Nonnie clicked, snorted, and puffed.
“Well, since I’m the only one who can understand you, you’ll always be in your right mind. At least, as long as I’m in mine.” Circe smiled.
Mrs. Nonnie leered a big drippy grin and nodded her head.
With one hand, Circe fished out the handkerchief from her bag. “Here, dribbling is not helping your case.”
Mrs. Nonnie whistled.
If I don't watch out, I will chuck those papers I have to write before the semester ends and have a ball with Mrs. Nonnie and Circe. And I can't wait to write Sweetpea. Oh, yeah. She's gonna be fun.