|The Queen of January
Author: James Hampton PM
She sits in a gilded palace, a woman frozen in time, gazing out from her mansion's tall windows onto a world that is warm, vibrant, and alive. Now, thanks to an unlikely friendship, the Queen of January may finally have a chance to relinquish her crown...2 of 10 chapters currently posted.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Friendship - Chapters: 2 - Words: 1,947 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 06-27-12 - Published: 06-20-12 - id: 3034243
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It started with a phone call from my sister, Jessica. I'm the youngest of three children, the baby of the family, and, as far as I'm concerned, whatever extra, undeserved affection I supposedly received from my parents was cancelled out completely by the relentless teasing I take to this day from my older siblings. My brother and sister, who often collaborate in tormenting me, long maintained that I was a "surprise," that Mom and Dad had decided to stop having kids since the first two turned out so perfectly, and that I only happened because our mother kept forgetting to take her birth control pills. On other occasions, they tried to get me to believe I was grown in a test tube, and that the laboratory marketed me to our parents at a steep discount because of my multiple, unspecified physical defects; I was accepted only because the Hughes family needed another person to help around the house. My mother and father, respectively a teacher's aide and an electrician, refute these claims and many others too outrageous for me to bother repeating here. But it doesn't matter, because I know my siblings love me and they know I love them. We also know it's much too embarrassing to admit to that love, and thus, as a show of affection, we insult each other instead. Right now, I have to admit, their insults are usually cleverer than mine. I chalk this up to the experience that comes with their advanced ages; here in 2012, my brother, Scott, is thirty-five and my sister, Jessica, thirty-one. I take a lot of pleasure from reminding my brother and sister of how they're getting on in years. "Getting on up there," as I often put it.
Today, Jessica is a stay-at-home mom raising three girls, two of whom are twins; she's blond, like me, and keeps her hair cut way too short, in my opinion (I call her Mrs. Brady). But in 2008 she was working as a secretary at the law offices of Henley and Baker, had only recently gotten engaged, and there were no children yet. One June afternoon, a couple of weeks after I graduated from college, I was lounging on the sofa watching television. She called from the law firm.
"Hey, doofus," Jessica said, "you want to make some money?"
"Yeah, I do, actually," I answered. She normally greeted me as doofus. Sometimes I replied with a disparaging name for her and sometimes I did nothing; it all depended on if I was in a fighting mood. Today I wasn't, especially if she was dangling the prospect of some much-needed spending loot. I asked, "What have you got for me?"
"Well, it's nothing major," Jessica said, "but Paul has a client he was talking to on the phone earlier today…" She was referring to Paul Baker, Jr., son of one of the firm's founding partners.
"Okay," I said, trying to be patient.
"And so this lady told Paul she was looking for someone to come over and do some yard work for her. She never leaves her house, apparently, and the guy she was using to take care of her property moved away or something. So, anyway, Paul asked me if I knew anybody who might be able to help her. And I said, 'Well, I've got this useless brother who's unemployed right now and could probably use some extra cash.' I told him you weren't very smart but as long as it was just simple stuff that didn't require any thinking, you could probably handle it. I also said you'd work really cheap."
"Wow, Jessica. Thanks."
"You're welcome," she answered. "So, anyway, Paul called the lady back and she said that'd be fine with her. I've got her number here so you can call her and find out what she needs to have done. But you're not allowed to bargain with her on the price. That's the deal. She pays you whatever she thinks you ought to get paid."
"Wait a minute," I protested. "Who said we had to do it that way? Did she?"
"No. I did." And I thought I heard a faint chortle on Jessica's end.
"So you're saying I can't negotiate with this person at all?"
"Yep," Jessica said. "That's why she agreed to hire you."
"But what if it turns out to be some huge job?"
"Don't worry about that," she assured me. "They'd actually get a professional to do it if it was something really important. No, from what I understand, this is just simple work…you know, things any moron could do. I figured it'd be right up your alley."
"That's nice, Jessica," I grumbled. "That's really nice."
"Do you have a pen, doofus?"
I sat up on the sofa, got a pen and pad from the end-table beside me. "Yeah," I sighed, "go ahead."
"Okay, her name is Alice Cranfield," Jessica said. "And this is her number…"
I took the number, and hung up with Jessica. Then I called Alice Cranfield. Quite a few rings passed; I was actually about to terminate the call and try back later when a woman's voice finally came onto the line.
"Hello?" she said, and I was struck by the warmth of the greeting. It was the sort of "Hello" you would give to a friendly acquaintance; not necessarily a friend, but someone you had met and enjoyed, if only briefly, on several occasions.
"Yes, hello, I'm Kevin Hughes," I responded, caught off-guard. "I'm Jessica's brother." I got no response, so I quickly added, "Jessica Hughes, from the Henley & Baker law office. I was calling about some yard work for a Mrs. Cranfield."
There was another pause, and then the voice sang out again: "Oh! Yes, yes, yes. I remember now. I'm Alice Cranfield." I found it difficult to estimate her age from listening to her. The words flowed cleanly and brightly, though I detected a slight dryness in her throat; by the way Alice Cranfield sounded, she could have been in her late forties or her early eighties. I simply couldn't tell. "My, but you were prompt in calling me," she remarked. "I'm very grateful."
"Sure," I said, and wished I had replied with something a bit more professional, like "Of course" or "Certainly." But the commonplace "Sure" had gotten out the door first. I went on: "Can you tell me what sort of work you had in mind, ma'am?"
"Oh, just some general trimming and clean-up. It shouldn't take long, maybe half-a-day," Alice replied. "When can you come over?"
"I can come over tomorrow morning if you'd like."
"What time would be convenient for you?"
"It's all the same to me, darling. Suppose…eight o'clock?"
"Yes, ma'am, I'd be happy to do that."
"I'm at 100 Oglethorpe Road," Alice said. "You'll see a brick gate with a long driveway behind it, and there's a little plaque on the gate that says 'January.' Not that that matters. I'm probably the only house with a gate on this whole island."
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "Well, I'll be there at eight then."
"Marvelous," said Alice. "Thank you, darling. Goodbye…" She hung up.
January, I thought, setting down the receiver.
I had known exactly where Alice Cranfield lived as soon as she mentioned the brick gate; and, as she'd said, throwing in the bit about the plaque was unnecessary. As far back as I could remember, I had known of January's existence. Anyone who was from Greene Island originally would be familiar with the place, and most people, including me, were also aware that it was owned by a woman who was famously reclusive. Now I would be doing something that, to my knowledge, no one else I knew had ever done: laying eyes on that woman.