I knew it as soon as I saw her that I had done the right thing. I knew it like nobody’s business. And I knew for a fact that Camilla Baldwin was going to be mad as fire, but I had to help that poor girl.
Norma Watson is in my church group at the Baptist church. She makes the best apple strudel straight from scratch and I make the best coffee, so everyone at church says that we make the best team when it comes to mornin’ prayer circle. Well, Norma told me that she heard from Melinda Sawyer ‘bout this young woman whose husband decided to up and divorce her and left her no place to go. Said her name was Emily somethin’ or other. Said they lived somewheres up near At-lanta. Well, I just couldn’t imagine how that was so. How would she have no place to go? Wouldn’t she get half? Isn’t that what’s useful ‘bout useless lawyers? Aren’t they supposed to get you half? Well, I declare, I don’t know how such a thing could happen, but it did.
So I told Norma to tell Melinda to tell whoever needed to be told that the poor girl could come live with us. No, I did not even take a breath to get Camilla Baldwin’s permission. There just wasn’t time.
I picked her up at the bus station bright and early on a Saturday mornin’ two weeks later. She was a tiny little petite thing sittin’ among her luggage and whatever possessions that son of a bitch ex-husband allowed her to take. She wasn’t bigger than a minute, and so pretty. I pulled up in Camilla’s Cadillac. I brought it thinkin’ we would need the trunk space. She stood as soon as I pulled up in front of her and waved at her.
“Hi-dee,” I said as I jumped outta the car, wavin’ like a monkey. She smiled sweetly but her brow furrowed, so I guessed she probably thought I’s crazy. I walked over and gave her a warm hug and introduced myself.
“I’m Gladys Sewell, but people call me Sally.”
“Really,” she asked, taken off guard. “Why do they do that?”
“I mean,” she stammered, tryin’ to correct herself. “I mean why do they call you Sally if your name is Gladys?”
I smiled at her. “Oh, don’t you worry none. I understand your confusion. Well, let me just say it’s my husband’s fault, may God rest his soul. He started callin’ me Sally way back when we were young and fallin’ in love. So,” I winked at her. “I started callin’ him Pete. Just pet names for each other, but it stuck and other people started callin’ us by those names too.”
She nodded slowly. “Oh okay, well it’s nice to meet you, Sally. I’m Emily Cooper.”
I smiled at her. “Oh honey, it’s so nice to meet you too. Now, let’s get all your stuff loaded up and get you home. How ‘bout that?”
I saw that sad smile cross her face, and my heart just broke to pieces for her. She was polite but quiet as we piled all her belongin’s in the car. Turned out I didn’t need the Caddy after all. The poor girl hardly had nothin’ at all. Doesn’t seem right to’ve lived thirty somethin’ years and not have enough stuff to fill up a trunk.
She was quiet the whole way home too, but I just prattled on and on like I normally do. Silence makes me nervous. Not sure why, but it does. Guess I think if nobody’s talkin’ then everybody’s bored. So I just talked and talked while she looked out the window. I don’t have the faintest idea if she was listenin’, but I had a good ten miles to drive from the bus station to the house; a good ten miles to think how in the world I was gonna break the news to Camilla ‘bout our new boarder, and well I just didn’t want to think ‘bout it. So I talked instead. See, I knew better than to tell that stingy woman beforehand ‘bout all-a this because she would automatically say no. So I just thought it might be better to surprise her. Now I was beginnin’ to regret such a decision.
It wasn’t unusual for me to bring in boarders. I had done it several times before, and each time Camilla was less and less happy ‘bout it. Well, actually, I don’t think you can really call ’em boarders because they don’t really pay nothin’. They just need help, that’s all. And I like to help people, but Camilla doesn’t. Not really.
Well, when we pulled into the long driveway I could already feel Camilla’s piercin’ eyes upon me. Those eyes could burn right straight through a person. I just kept on talkin’ so Emily wouldn’t sense my impendin’ doom. Good Lord, I dreaded seein’ that woman’s face.
As expected, my cousin was standin’ dead center of the front porch with her arms crossed, glarin’ at me. I bet Lindley told her. I bet you she did. She had to’ve, otherwise Camilla wouldn’t-a known squat so soon. That Lindley, always tryin’ to warn everybody of everythin’. Bless her heart. I’m gonna have to talk to her ‘bout that.
Camilla didn’t say a thing. She just stared. I said, “Mornin’ Cam!” but she didn’t respond. She just stood there. She didn’t help or anythin’. Before long, Lindley came out and started helpin’. She looked at me sheepishly and mouthed “I’m sorry” when Camilla couldn’t see her. As irritated as I was I couldn’t be mad. Camilla would have found out anyways. Cain’t really go hidin’ someone in a house hopin’ nobody’ll find out. Don’t matter how big the house is. I guess I was just hopin’ I could get Emily all settled in before Camilla knew anythin’. Well, that plan was blown all to Hades thanks to Lindley. Don’t matter none though. Wouldn’t-a worked anyhow.
Well, with the three of us unloadin’, me, Lindley, and Emily, it didn’t take us no time to get her things upstairs. No thanks to Camilla, but at least she did step aside when we passed her on the front porch. That was a good sign anyhow. But she kept on starin’. She even stared at Emily, but bless her heart, she was so lost in her own grief that she didn’t see Camilla’s eyes borin’ into her.
We got her settled in her room purty quickly. Me and Lindley had already put some fresh cotton sheets on the bed and put several vases of fresh flowers around. Just wanted it to feel all nice and homey for that poor sweet girl. We tucked her things away and then just stood there and smiled at her. “Can we get ya anythin’, honey?” I asked. “You want some tea or anythin’?”
“No, thank you,” she said as she went and sat in the window seat that overlooks my garden. It’s a nice little window seat and that’s why I chose this room for her. I didn’t know her beforehand, but for some reason I just thought it was perfect for her.
“Well, if ya need anythin’ we’ll be right downstairs. And by the way, Lindley here, well her room is down the hall from you, and I’m down the hall, too, across from her. So we’ll be purty close. Within shoutin’ distance if ya need us. And as you can see, you have your own bathroom, and we have our own too, so nobody’ll be botherin’ ya none.”
Emily smiled and nodded and said, “Thank you,” and then just continued to stare out the window. We left the room quietly and shut the door behind us and left her to her thoughts.
Me and Lindley both looked at each other before we approached the stairs. We knew Camilla would be standin’ right there at the bottom just waitin’ on us. And yes sir-ee, she did not disappoint. She was standin’ at the bottom, glarin’ up at us as we timidly started to descend the steps. She looked as mean as a snake, angry that I had defied her again. I got real nervous and when I get nervous I just break into a big ole’ smile and offer to do somethin’ nice. So I said, “Cam, would you like me to cook you some eggs? Make ‘em all fluffy the way you like ‘em?”
Her eyes narrowed even more, if that was possible. “Get down her now and get into that kitchen!” she hissed in anger. “And no, dammit, I do not want no eggs!”
“Listen, Cam,” Lindley started to say. “This time is different. This girl is different.”
“I don’t wanna hear it! I do not appreciate you two conspirin’ behind my back yet again! I will not tolerate it! Ya hear?!”
“To be fair, Cam,” I said. “None of this is Lindley’s fault. She didn’t know a thing ‘bout all this until day before yesterday. I swear. This is all my idea, so don’t go gettin’ all mad at her.”
Camilla just glared, not budgin’. In all my sixty-two years I had never known Camilla Baldwin to budge. Not one single solitary inch.
We followed her to the kitchen as if we were two little kids ‘bout to get spanked.
“Sit down,” she ordered us, pointin’ to the kitchen table. I sat down but I couldn’t sit still. Another thing I do when I’m nervous is cook. Once I cooked a whole Thanksgivin’ meal as I waited to hear if Martha Mosley made it through her triple bypass heart surgery. And it was August. But hells bells, I knew if I was to try to cook while Camilla had this particular stick up her butt she’d probably slap me like she did when we was fourteen and her boyfriend winked at me. So she paced the floor rantin’ and ravin’, and I sat at the table fidgetin’.
“What in the world ever possessed you, Gladys?!” Uh-oh, she was usin’ my given name. I could always gauge how mad she was by what name she used. “You tell me what in the hell possessed you to do this again? Was I NOT clear the last time? Was I not absolutely clear the last time when I actually had to use my shotgun to run off the last poor sap you felt sorry for? And what did I tell you then? Huh? You tell me, what did I tell you then?”
I searched my memory, but I didn’t have to search far. She had told me the last time that the next time she was gonna chase me off with the shotgun if I ever did it again. But she didn’t wait for me to answer. I don’t think she ever took a breath.
“You will take her back from wherever she came from, do ya hear me? You will do it!”
“Camilla,” Lindley finally interrupted. “Don’t you be so unreasonable. This girl is different. This girl needs our help, and I’m not going to allow you to send her away.”
Camilla finally took a breath. She stared down at poor Lindley like she was ‘bout to squash her dead. But Lindley stared back. I’ve never seen Camilla back down, but she did right then and there, and I was as shocked as shocked could be.
When it looked like Camilla wasn’t gonna say nothin’ else, Lindley kept on talkin’.
“Listen, Cam,” she said, shiftin’ in her seat. “There’s something going on with this girl.” She looked over at me like I’s supposed to say somethin’, but I was thinkin’ it would be better if I didn’t say nothin’. So she continued. “We don’t quite know what it is, but it’ll be interesting to find out. Plus, she just seems so vulnerable, you know? We can’t just throw her out. I don’t think she has any family or anything, does she Sal?”
Lindley looked at me and then I looked up at Camilla. “Yeah, that’s right!” I was glad to have somethin’ important to add. “No family at all. That’s what Melinda told Norma, and that’s what Norma told me.”
Camilla didn’t answer. She just grabbed her coffee cup and stormed outta the room. That meant we had won the argument and Emily could stay. Camilla Baldwin might leave a room when she’s wrong, but she’ll never admit it with words. Those words would be too bitter for her to taste.
by Janet Robinson © 2012