Robert Wexelblatt

Posted on September 18, 2017

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Bandaged Saturday

            “It’s Eliz. . ?  Eliza.  Elizabeth.  But the other name’s worn away.”

            “Newell.  Elizabeth Newell.  Her friends called her Lizzy.”

            “Lizzy.  I think it says, uh, 1673 to 1695?  That’s, um. . .” 

            “Yes?”

            “Twenty-one.  No, twenty-two?”

            “That’s right.”

            “I took away the sixteens.  What did she die of?”

            “Well, it was a freak accident.”

            “What’s a freak accident?  Lizzy wasn’t a freak, was she?”

            “No, Lizzy was very nice.  A freak accident means it’s unlikely.  Like when you found Pudding Bear in the laundry basket.”

            “I didn’t put him in the laundry.  Did you?”

            “It’s just possible he got caught up when we stripped your bed.”

            “But unlikely?”

            “Right.  Freak.”

            “Tell me how Lizzy died.”

            “Well, back then there weren’t so many houses around here.  Most people lived on farms.  The country was almost all forest when they arrived, so the people chopped down trees and made themselves little farms with their houses in the middle.  But there were still woods all around.”

            “There are still lots of trees.”

            “That’s true, but the town’s much bigger now.”

            “And there’s a toy store.”

            “Right.  That’s where we were headed when you wanted to come in here.”

            “I like it here.”

            “So I see.”

            “Okay.  Now tell me about Lizzy.”

            “Well, what happened was that she was climbing up to the top of the barn.  It’s called the loft.  Lizzy was carrying a basket of potatoes she wanted to store up there. Back then ladders were homemade and wooden.  The ladder Lizzy was using wasn’t put together very well and nobody checked to see if the steps were still sound.  Lizzy was almost at the top of the ladder when one of the steps broke.”

            “And she fell down?”

            “I’m afraid so.  Lizzy fell into a big vat of bacon fat.”

            “Bacon fat?”

            “The Newells didn’t have a refrigerator, of course, because refrigerators hadn’t been invented yet.  So people could only make ice cream in the winter, when it was cold.  The bacon fat Lizzy fell into was being turning into ice cream.”

            “Yuck.”

            “They only had four flavors:  corn ripple, beet sherbet, lobster swirl—but bacon fat was the most popular.”

            “I’m glad we didn’t live back then.”

            “Uh-hm.  Back then, rocky roads were just roads with rocks in them.”

            “How about him?  Eli-jah Town-send.  1681-1693.”

            “Another sad story.  Elijah was a boy who loved reading.  People used to say he always had his head stuck in a book and sometimes he really did.”

            “Elijah died from reading?”

            “In a sense.  It was springtime.  Elijah was reading one of his favorite poets while he was taking a hike up on Rocky Neck.  He got so caught up in the poems that he didn’t notice the cliff.”

            “So, he fell too?”

            “I’m afraid he did.  A long way down.  You not only need sound ladders; you need to look where you’re going.”

            “Look.  This must have been a child.  The stone’s so tiny.”

            “Oh, that’s Toby Smith.  And you’re right.  He was just a toddler—just two years old, but Toby could already walk.  That was the problem.  One day, while his dad was away doing jury duty and his mom was hanging out the wash, Toby toddled into the woods and got lost.”

            “Did he die in the woods?”

            “Well, not immediately.  Toby was adopted by a family of rabbits. Big rabbits, about the same size as Toby.”

            “But. . . if Toby lived with the rabbits, then how did he die?”

            “Rabbits eat vegetables.  You know I’m always telling you that have to eat your vegetables, right?”

            “Uh-huh.  Broccoli and green beans and, uh, spinach.  So, Toby died because he wouldn’t eat his vegetables?”

            “It looks like it.  Of course, he might have tried to become a real rabbit.  If he ate his carrots and lettuce, he may even have succeeded in becoming an honorary rabbit.  His parents and their friends looked and looked for Toby but nobody could find him.  He may have hopped away into the woods with his rabbit family.  Eventually, everybody stopped looking.  It was very sad.  They put up this little stone to remember him.”

            “But there’s not even a name on it.”

            “Well, no.”

            “Why?”

            “Because if Toby ate his vegetables he may have lived a long and happy rabbit life.  They didn’t want his name on a gravestone.”

            “Hmm.  And what about her?  Meh. . . Meh Hita. . . Bell?”

            “That’s right.  Mehitabel Baldwin.  People called her Mattie.”

            “1672 to 1697.  What happened to her?”

            “Mattie loved the outdoors.  She was a good hunter but she loved the ocean most. In the summer, she liked to go fishing in a little sailboat her uncle kept in Salem harbor.  One July day she took her uncle’s boat out by herself.  The sun was warm, the sea was calm, and Mattie fell fast asleep.  She didn’t know that the tide was pulling her out to sea. When she woke up, a big black ship was almost on top of her.  It was a pirate ship. The pirates spotted Mattie in her little sailboat and thought she could do their cooking for them, so they captured her.  Pirates, in case you didn’t know, are terrible cooks.  Unfortunately, so was Mattie.  After she cooked up a really horrible octopus stew and made everybody sick, the pirates forced her to walk the plank.  And that, I’m sorry to say, was the end of Mehitabel Baldwin.”

            “Oh, Daddy.”

            “Oh, Potts.”

            “I like cemeteries.”

            “That’s clear.”

            “They’re quiet, and they’re pretty.”

            “You’re pretty, but not always so quiet.”

            “I’m glad we came here today.  The girled cheese was really good.”

            “Grilled cheese.”

            “Girled.”

            “Okay.  Girled it is.”

            “I was a little tired after my piano lesson but this is nice.”

            “Good.  I thought you’d like having your favorite sandwich.  I wanted to show you Old North Bridge.  Next time we’ll walk all around Walden Pond.”

            “But we’re still going to the old-fashioned toy store?”

            “If you didn’t insist on this detour, we’d have been there by now.”

            “Daddy?  What’s this cemetery called?”

            “Its name is Old Hill Burying Ground.”

            “Burying Ground.  That’s better than cemetery.  The ground for burying in.”

            “I thought we both could use an outing, a treat.  Last week was kind of a rough week, wasn’t it?”

            “It was okay.”

            “Mrs. Hilbert was just trying to be nice.  You know that, don’t you?”

            “Sure.”

            “Daddy?”     

            “Yes, sweetheart?”

            “Most of the people in the burying ground are women, aren’t they?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “Why’s that?”

            “Why’s that?  Well, this is the town’s oldest cemetery.”

            “Burying ground.”

            “Right.  There are two newer ones.”

            “Yes?”

            “So, all the women who lived longer were buried in the other ones.  What with all the bad ladders and the pirates, this one got filled up.”

            “But why aren’t there more men?”

            “Ah, well, you see, sweetheart, that’s because the men were off fighting.  The Indians and the French too.  And then a lot of them went camping out west, in Ohio and Iowa and places like. . .”

            “Never mind, Daddy.”

            “So that’s why—”

            “Never mind.”

            “—why they aren’t—”

            “Daddy, just stop.  I know.”

****

Robert Wexelblatt is professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published the story collections, Life in the Temperate Zone, The Decline of Our Neighborhood, The Artist Wears Rough Clothing, and Heiberg’s Twitch; a book of essays, Professors at Play; two short novels, Losses and The Derangement of Jules Torquemal, and essays, stories, and poems in a variety of scholarly and literary journals. His novel Zublinka Among Women won the Indie Book Awards first-place prize for fiction. A collection of essays, The Posthumous Papers of Sidney Fein, is forthcoming as is a collection of experimental fiction, Petites Suites.

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