Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 43—Truth, Justice and the American Way

The door to the Incredible Farm Service Agency opened a crack, the bell tinkled ever so slightly to announce a visitor. The crack widened. A floorboard creaked. Like Doc Holliday creeping up on the Clanton gang at the OK Corral, Francyann Kennealy entered. The older woman was disheveled, but this was not out of the ordinary. What was out of the ordinary was that she was here.

“Truth, Justice and the American Way. You know—Superman?” Francyann waited expectantly. “Tad Needy—the Electrolux man? believes in Superman—Dorothy Needy says you are very nice. I spoke with her just last week, and she has all the Superman movies. You haven’t changed since then have you, last week? Tad Needy—he can fly, did I tell you that? Ouch.” Francyann clutched at her hip, bent over and swung loosely touching alternate toes. “Arthritis. Just loosening up.”

Jesse Youngblood might have warned her to expect this, a visitor from another planet. She should have asked. Clark Kent and Lois Lane were most likely not mentioned in Revelation. “Superman is not in the Bible,” Heidi said.

“Oh, dear me, then he’s not in Tom Sawyer or Ben Hur, either. Did I say that? If I did, then I was mistaken. We read those in high school. No. No, no, no, no. It was the pickle juice. They told me at the hospital. I was trapped in the pantry.”

“Oh, where are my manners,” said Heidi. “Please come in. We usually don’t stand on protocol here. This is a public building—your tax dollars at work. People just come in. Please. Come in and have a seat if you can find one.” Files, boxes of files and piles of books and magazines were stacked on all available surfaces. The Incredible Farm Service Agency had the look of a cordon sanitaire between warring factions. That or a large family was moving in or moving out. Heidi picked up a carton of copier paper, thus liberating a seat.

Francyann shambled over to the bentwood imitation maple chair reserved for visitors and plomped herself into it. Her weight on the cushion made a wheezing sound. “He—Clark Kent—is a reporter yet we never see the tiniest jot of anything he has written. Don’t you think this is peculiar? Superman has a message, yet Clark Kent is mute.” Francyann cast about for an empty spot to place her handbag. There was none; with an arthritic grimace, she bent to place it on the floor. “May I call you Heidi? It is your name, after all.”

Heidi shuffled a stack of papers. “Yep, it’s my name.” She lifted one massive stack of files and carried it to the recycle (paper) bin. She was busy. She hoped Francyann would take the hint and get along with things. “The Daily Planet, Mrs. Kennealy, Clark Kent’s newspaper. They don’t have much distribution north of Portland. Maybe Boston.” The woman was a relative of Ed’s and, until she found out otherwise, to be treated with forbearance no matter how crazy she was.

“You are young,” Francyann continued, oblivious. “...presentable. Well, you do have the start of a secretary’s spread...” She eyed Heidi’s bottom appraisingly. “Some men are attracted to that I’ve heard. It gives you Substance. Physical, not spiritual, although the two are easy to confuse these days, my dear.”

“South American men like a good substantial bottom; skinny girls are out of luck. I have heard this.” Has she just popped in to get snarky about my ass? A shrug, and Heidi swiveled to check on her behind. Not skinny, but nice. “On a global scale fat asses predominate. I’d count as a Charlie’s Anglo.” That is a South American joke, Francyann, thought Heidi. You are permitted to laugh. You may roll on the floor with loud guffaws if you do not find the posture painful or unbecoming.

“Superman. I believe in Superman. South America. I do not believe in South America. Antarctica is another story. You are still an attractive woman, Heidi.”

“You’re not selling Jenny Craig, are you? Listen, Mrs. Kennealy, I have a lot of work to do here. You don’t mind if I just get along with things while we talk, do you?” Substance. A fat ass gives a woman substance. Before today there had been no social offense. And they had hardly spoken. Now you come into my place of employment to tell me I have a fat ass.

“I have fasted and meditated. I didn’t want to go without eating; my food means so much to me. But I have seen God and had to tell someone.”

Heidi sighed and sat down. “Well, there’s a lot of that going around. And I am a designated listener, a total stranger almost.”

“I have had a vision. Love is not just about the sex.”

Oh yes it is, Heidi wanted to say. Word got around. Ed had warned her about Francyann: “She’s a space alien—came for a visit in 1976 and never went home. They say—Lucy says—she forgot where she came from. He knows, Lucy knows and he won’t tell. He keeps her as a pet, I think.”

Francyann tried to get up out of the chair. She gripped the armrests and lifted herself a few inches. The cushion inhaled. “Ooo...” with a miniature cry of despair she let herself fall back down. “You see how it is with me, my dear. I am getting weaker with every passing day.”

“Look, Mrs. Kennealy. Do you mind if I call you Francyann? After all we are going to be related soon.” Maybe not, that was moot.

“Oh, yes. You and Ed. Isn’t that marvelous. I have been waiting for this ever since I first saw him. He was the cutest little child, all about collecting bugs and specimens in formaldehyde. And now he will pass the talent on to other curious children.”

The moot children, thought Heidi. “Francyann, I have work to do,” said Heidi. “You just keep up your end of the conversation and I’ll bustle about like a busy little bee.” Heidi was preparing the contents of eight four-drawer file cabinets for transformation into digital documents. “Anyone, anywhere—online, that’s the future,” the dean had said when proclaiming the University’s dicta on accessibility. “There will be some re-typing, but we’ll see about getting you some grad student, underclassman, someone—some character recognition software, something.” He then shrugged. That meant Ed and Heidi would have to sink or swim by themselves.

“Great,” Ed said. This was last February, “We’ll get right to it.” And they did, although not in the way the tribunes and proconsuls of the University of Maine envisioned.

Francyann did not seem in the slightest put out. “No. I don’t mind your bustle at all, my dear. After all—see ourselves as others see us.”

“Uhn... yes.” With a fat ass. Heidi went up a set of rolling library steps Ed had commandeered for shelves too high for the younger Cub Scouts and Future Farmers to reach unassisted. She caught a glimpse of her rear end in the mirror across the room, just over the pothos and a planter of hardy ferns. Nice ass, she thought.

A visiting scoutmaster with a crew of budding Maine guides had once climbed the rolling library steps to view the offerings. “Quilting. Home Canning. For Christ’s sake who’d want to know that? Old ladies and fairies. Not the Boy Scouts of America.” Heidi had entertained a brief impulse to call him out on his not-so-latent homophobia. Girl stuff, he would have said. So she let it drop. “Why don’t you check,” he said. Always the wistful peeping Tom, praying for a flash of flesh from up a ladder. “I’m wearing underwear today,” Heidi had said, as she nodded toward the ladder and the upper shelves where a tenderfoot scout sat absorbed in the quilting pamphlet. The man blushed crimson. “Kids,” he snorted.

“There is a miraculous child among us,” said Francyann. She stood with a cracking of vertebrae realigning themselves. “The new revelation might well be at hand. On the other hand... we’d still have Clark Kent for backup. Just in case. Did you watch the TV show? Lois and Clark? I found Clark Kent quite good-looking. But...” Here she drew close and her voice became hoarse and theatrical, not a stage whisper but a grand gesture, we are girls here together, intended to demonstrate that Heidi was among the select few. “...this time we will be allowed to read what he has written.” She beamed triumphantly. “There, I’ve told you.”

“You mean like Jesus?” Ed was right the first time; she was a space alien.

“No. No, no, no, no. Jesus has been and gone. This is the New Revelation.”

Heidi thought of New Ashmoleans. “You ever see Where’s Charley? Hey, wait a minute. Do you get phone calls from a man who says he is a deacon at the Church of the Divine Satisfaction?”

Heidi had been going to ask if Francyann heard voices. No. She heard voices; that one was a non-starter. “Do you, uh... do you know any black people?”

“Black people are quite rhythmic. I have heard this, of course I would not know from my own experience. No. I most definitely do not know any black people. I have seen black people in pictures, though. In the National Geographic?”

“No one ever calls you. On the phone? I mean, anybody you don’t know... a wrong number?”

“Thunderstorms. The electricity. I do not use a telephone. My father believed this was the prudent course with scientific marvels. They are dangerous until proven otherwise. I’d like to have you over to dinner someday. Today.” Francyann made a mental inventory of the contents of her reconfigured pantry. “Mac and cheese. OK?”

“Well...” Heidi grasped for an excuse.

“Fine, this evening then.” The older woman arranged herself with much heaving and some small struggles with the lining of her coat which had become caught on a metal file drawer. There was a ripping sound and the odor of camphor. Mothballs. “Ahh... made it. At my age you have been blessed when you can complete anything you start. Every time I try to get up I figure ‘this could be it.’ Well here I am all ready to go. Or have I just come in? Who are you, young woman? Is this a book store? I don’t read as much as I really ought to. The Reader’s Digest condensed books, I have them all. I started in on The Good Earth. Pearl S. Buck, the Saturday Evening Post says it is unforgettable, brilliant, outstanding. I also have it in the full, uncut version. I won’t read it of course. Just for show—and in case I find it so unforgettable that I am overwhelmed and do forget it. Then I’d have to start all over again, wouldn’t I? I feel I should start with the full version—the author’s vision? I should like to have it on the shelf to dry out for a few years; ink smudges the fingers. Have you noticed that? Yes, you have—you appear to be a bright young woman. Bright as a new penny. What is your name?”

“Heidi. Heidi Nichols.”

Heidi. The book about the little Swiss goat-girl. She had a quest. Charming. Her friend pushed her aunt’s wheelchair over a cliff, my favorite part.”

“That sounds grim.”

“Oh, the aunt wasn’t in it. It was a symbol of Heidi’s quest. Do you have a quest, Heidi Nichols?”

“Quest...” Heidi had never read Heidi. Due to her parent’s choice of a name for her, she had accumulated a sizeable collection of the book; all the copies were the same. It reappeared every Christmas in a gilt-edged edition with color illustrations. She hated her name and never read it. She said she lost it. It was recommended to her at school, a good enough reason to keep away from Heidi, the book.

“A quest, a reaching beyond one’s self toward a higher calling. I have a quest. I will tell you my quest if you will tell me yours. We would share—isn’t that jolly? And we can become the best of friends and help one another. Search... for whatever it is we are...” Francyann wore a puzzled look. She has lost her place again, thought Heidi. Now she will have to start all over from the beginning.

Francyann’s face brightened. Here we go, thought Heidi. “A quest, yes. Something to validate your existence and brighten the care-worn lives of those around you. I redeem...”

Heidi decided to speak loudly and to enunciate clearly. “I know a preacher who’s on a first-name basis with John the Evangelist. Have you ever met a man who calls himself Elder Jesse Youngblood? He works at a church. The Church of the Divine Satisfaction...”

“...coupons,” Francyann ended triumphantly. Francyann was not listening. She found the exertion of prolonged socializing had weakened her. She gathered in her satin lining and sank back into the chair. Sweat beaded on her face. “There. Now you know all about me. And your quest. We are to be the best of friends and must share our secrets.”

Heidi had not noticed a bull’s-eye in the middle of her forehead that morning. It must be open season on her. I am a nut magnet, thought Heidi. Elder Jesse with his groundhog and mayonnaise sandwiches, then this demented old lady. “You want my deepest, darkest secret.”

“That would be nice. But your quest will suffice for now. We are crusaders riding forth after our own particular grail, Heidi Nichols. Our lives are changed through the Quest, aren’t they? Without a Quest where would we be, I ask you. People would be left like dummies in a store window, standing around and talking about the way things are.”

I really, really wanted to get laid a lot. Now I am. Quest ended. What the hell, might as well say it out loud. “What happens when a Quest is fulfilled, uh... ended? Mine has. Now what do I do? I wanted good sex with a decent man, future undefined; forever after will take care of itself.”

There was a whiffling of aged lungs and Francyann’s hand shot to her heart. “Oh...”

Holy shit, I’ve killed her, thought Heidi.

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