THE PRINCESS, THE GYPSY, AND THE COWGIRL
A coolness had penetrated the sticky air the dwindling summer left in its wake. The doors and windows to Blanchard House stood open all day now allowing breezes to drift through cooling rooms which had felt like an oven a month ago. Things didn’t stick now, Olympia noticed. Throughout August and September, she’d found herself making a habit of walking through rooms slightly shifting objects which sat around on side tables, shelves, or mantlepieces. Candlesticks and vases were the best to achieve the sensation. Placing her little hands on each side of the object and giving a slight twist, made them emit a tiny little clicky sound as they let go of their humid hold on painted shelves. Now that the summer air had floated away, no sound came when she took a vase or ceramic statue and gave them her daily twist in place. It was definitely Autumn now.
The leaves among the many trees on the Blanchard property were starting their colorful change now. Oranges, golds, deep beet reds made the outdoors seem newly painted somehow. Her sister Pastoria was already starting her yearly collection of the prettiest leaves she could find and pasting them into her collection book. Pastoria made a book every year since she was 6 years old. She was now ten. Oddly enough she never looked at the collections of past years. If she had she might have noticed those leaves were no longer colorful and long dried out.
A car door shut outside ringing the attention of the two little girls inside the house. Olympia and Pastoria each came running from different rooms out to the large porch to see their father trapsing forward holding two large bags in each hand. Behind the girls, standing in the doorway behind the screen stood their mother presenting a disapproving face as she wiped her hands on her apron.
“Are those our costumes?” Pastoria cried running forward and snatching one of the bags. A quick look inside told her it wasn’t hers. “Cinderella!” she snarled, thrusting the bag towards her older sister. “Of course, you have to be a princess.”
Olympia took the bag in hand and gingerly lifted out the sky-blue dress as if it were made of glass. Her eyes bulged at the embroidery and delicate details of each cuff and collar. “Father, this didn’t come from Woolworth. This isn’t the same dress they are selling in their costume department.”
Constantinople Blanchard stroked his twelve-year-old daughter’s soft blonde hair and answered, “No. I had these costumes specially made by Mrs. Browning in town.”
“You didn’t,” his wife scolded, coming forward to the top step. “Stanton, we cannot afford to spoil these children the way you insist upon spoiling them.”
Pastoria had already withdrawn her cowgirl outfit and was marveling at the hand stitched rhinestones on the vest and hat. She paid no attention to her mother’s annoyance. Her mother was always irritated about something.
“My dear Angharad,” Constantinople smiled. “They are only children once. Allow me to indulge them a little before life forces them into reality.”
Angharad Blanchard peered sternly down from the top step as her husband encroached. “And how do assume we are to pay for the automobile repairs or Pastoria’s dental work when you waste our hard-earned funds of such nonsense.”
He reached the top step, now on equal footing with her which made him six inches taller. She was less foreboding when they stood face to face. He leaned towards her to give her a gentle kiss. As she always did when the children were around, she turned, allowing the kiss to only hit her cheek. “Let me worry about our finances, my dear. You are much too lovely to develop worry lines.”
For a fleeting second, a twinkle registered in her eye before it disappeared back behind the severe blackness. He knew she liked it when he complimented her appearance although she never would indicate such. Constantinople moved past his family into the house where he laid another bag on the entry table. She said nothing about this bag because she knew it was pointless to do so. He’d also brought home costumes for them as well. She returned to her kitchen to finish preparing the evening meal.
“I’m sorry she is angry with you over our costumes,” Olympia murmured to her father. “You should have just gone to Woolworth.”
Her father raised a playful brow. “You mean you do not like your Cinderella dress?”
She gasped and shook her head. “Oh, Father, I just love it! I do! But she…”
He wrapped his arms around his sensitive daughter and smiled. “Your mother is not as fierce as she presents herself to be.’ He paused, grinned, and winked. “Well…she is actually. But I have ways of soothing her. You just enjoy being Cinderella tomorrow night. I bet you will get lots of wonderful treats when we go to town.”
He went upstairs to shower before dinner. Olympia watched as he disappeared down the second-floor hallway. Pastoria joined her, still marveling at her elaborately stitched cowgirl costume. “Why is she so mean?” she asked her sister. “She’s never happy about anything. And she always picks on Father. I wish he’d tell her off.”
“I think he loves her.” Olympia explained. “I don’t know why, but I think he does.”
The next day was a school day, despite it also being Halloween, but it also meant teachders would be a little more lax with lessons. In Pastoria’s class, instead of the drudgery of afternoon lessons, the final two hours of class were spent coloring fun Halloween pictures of pumpkins, ghosts, graveyard cats, and witches. Of course, the last handout sheet sent a shiver of apprehension through her as virtually every classmate turned her general direction, flashing the witch picture at her accompanied by a disapproving face or cutting remark. “Hey, is this one of your relatives?” Dodie Meyer called out after he'd scribbled green crayon across the witch’s face. Pastoria simply ignored the comment as the rest of the class snickered. In Olympia’s class, things were practically the same only they were too old for Crayola’s. Olympia’s teacher spent the final hour regaling the class with spooky seasonal stories. She began with a factually incorrect lesson about witch trails in Europe and Massachusetts. Like in Pastoria’s classroom, this talk of witches brought undesired attention Olympia’s way. “How many of your ancestors got burned alive?” Lisa Hawkins exclaimed from two rows back. Of course, the teacher ignored the insult as if she hadn’t heard it, but everyone had. Olympia simply smiled and replied, “Those poor people were all innocent. A real witch would never have been burned alive. No one would have been able to catch her.” She knew she was exacerbating the rumors and the taunts by her flippant remark, but she’d been through enough of this treatment over the years. She frankly didn’t care anymore. She had no need for friends. Pastoria was her friend. And Zelda, that new girl in the classroom across the hall was her friend. Olympia had no need for anyone else.
Once the bell rang, Olympia gathered her books and exited the classroom to wait by the water fountain for her sister and Zelda. Zelda Cooper moved to Daihmler a few weeks ago from Oneonta. The moment the two girls locked eyes on each other the first day of school they knew they were the same. Can you hear me? Rang the voice inside Olympia’s head. Olympia still remembered the shock she felt when she looked towards the strange new girl in school and saw her looking directly at her as the words resounded in her mind. Are you speaking to me in my brain? Olympia asked without opening her mouth. I sure am! Name’s Zelda! I figured you was one of us. Just felt it. Having Zelda around now made Olympia and Pastoria feel less like freaks.
Zelda bounded up to the water fountain, and took a big gulp, dripping most of it onto her bright purple dress. “Am I glad class is done!”
Olympia smiled at her new friend and asked, “Did they give you a hard time too when any talk about witches came up?”
Zelda let out a howl, “Foot! No, I gave them the hard time! That dumb teacher was talking about that face in the courthouse window in Carrollton. Miss Smith says he was wrongly convicted of stealing and they was gonna hang him. Then lightening flashed and froze his reflection in the window. I let her know right off that ain’t what happened. He ticked off the sheriff’s wife and cursed his soul into that glass. We all know that story. I guess these regular folks hear a different one.”
Olympia couldn’t help but laugh. Zelda feared no one and cared very little if anyone thought she was different or crazy. Olympia wished she could be that free, but the truth was Olympia cared very much about others opinion of her. Pastoria soon joined them at the water fountain, and they made their plans for the evening.
“Did you parents say you could come home with us to trick or treat?” Pastoria asked Zelda.
“My Papa said he don’t care as long as your daddy don’t mind bringing me home after. Got my costume in my backpack.”
Constantinople Blanchard picked up the three girls in his red DeSoto and drove them out to Blanchard House. The addition of their new friend made the ride all the more animated. Until young Zelda’s family moved to town, he’d never witnessed his girls have a friend. The other children of Daihmler shunned the Blanchard girls because of the gossip heard from the mouths of parents. It used to make him sad the way his daughters paid the price for the legends floating around about his family. It wasn’t their fault, or anyone’s really. The Blanchards had lived in this region longer than most and the stories about them had always been woven into the fabric of Daihmler history. Over the years Constantinople’s resentment of the ostracization of his girls diminished a bit once he saw how they were growing up to be strong independent young women who only needed one another. But now they had a friend. True, little Zelda was an unconventional friend—odder than any child he’d ever seen. But her nonconformity amused him. He’d met her parents once. They were an unremarkable couple. Poor and not fully educated. Certainly not as open to friendship as their daughter. But even their dullard personalities could not squelch Zelda’s zest and vitality. When Angharad voiced her protest of how the new girl was not up to the standard of people the girls should associate with, Constantinople simply pointed out that Zelda’s strength of self—especially for someone so young—was exactly what the daughters of Constantinople Blanchard needed as an example in their lives. From that moment on, his wife offered no more criticisms and young Zelda became a regular fixture at Blanchard House.
After a meager meal at the kitchen table, forced by Angharad as to keep the children from becoming sick off candy later, everyone dressed in their costumes. Constantinople stood at the bottom of the stairs in the foyer waiting on all the girls. He was dressed in a black suit, complete with matching waistcoat, and a tall black top hat. It was his intention to be Abraham Lincoln. If told who he was supposed to be dressed as, he looked the part with his trimmed brown beard and mustache, but truth be told had he simply added a small red cape and wand, he could have gone as a magician. His costume was not new. In fact, it wasn’t a costume. The suit was already his own, he’d only purchased the hat for the final effect. Pastoria and Zelda bounded down the stairs with the excitement of a couple of charging bulls. Pastoria looked precious in her pink and white cowgirl costume. She placed one hand on her holster where a plastic gun was fastened at the hip balanced on the other side of her waist by a braided tan rope looped through one of her beltloops.
“Are you my little girl, or has Dale Evans come to pay a call?” Constantinople teased as she spun around to show him the full view.
Zelda was dressed as a gypsy fortune teller. It was a costume she’d obviously cobbled together herself. It wasn’t so much a costume as it was a navy blue tablecloth she’d glued yellow and white construction paper cutouts to in the shapes of moons and stars. She’d rather crudely cut a hole in the center of the tablecloth for her head and two slots on the sides for her arms to poke through. But it really wasn’t that bad. He admired her ingenuity.
“You know Zelda, you are missing something.”
“Really Mr. Blanchard?”
Constantinople moved into the little study off the foyer and withdrew something from a drawer. Returning to the child her presented a long, beautiful, multi-colored scarf. “This belonged to my mother. I think it is the perfect adornment for your costume tonight.”
He tied it around the crown of her head and draped the two long ends at her right shoulder. He directed her to the hall mirror where he watched the grateful child admire the thing of beauty on her head.
“Oh, I can’t wear this Mr. Blanchard. I wouldn’t want it to get dirty.”
“Then don’t stick your head in any puddles tonight and I’m sure it’ll be just fine, Zelda.” His smile brought one out from her. He knew she was never fussed over in her own home. He didn’t believe his long-departed mother would have minded if her prized heirloom went out trick or treating tonight.
Olympia, always the longest of the children to dress, now came down the stairs in her elaborate Cinderella gown. The plastic rhinestone crown on her head glimmered under the lights. “How do I look Father?”
“Exquisite, my pet. Walt Disney himself would be proud.”
A dark figure emerged from the upstairs hallway and descended the stairs after Olympia. Angharad was dressed in shimmery black chiffon which hugged her hourglass curves. A long cape trailed behind her. Atop her head she wore a tall conical hat with her cascading black hair pulled over her shoulder.
“Really, Mother?” Pastoria scoffed. “You are going as a witch?”
“I am a witch. Why conceal it.”
“Don’t we get enough flak from people already?” her youngest daughter whined.
Angharad Blanchard did something she almost never did. She bent her legs to lower herself eye level with her two daughters and their friend. For a single moment the iciness which always frosted her tone and the severity which always peered from her eyes was gone. Gently she wrapped her fingers around her daughters’ arms and said, “People will always target those they fear or admire. However, the strong remain true to themselves. Hate is only jealous admiration. We are Blanchards. Why should we fear anything?”
No one ever drove all the way out to the Blanchard property for trick or treating. It was far too remote an area of town. For this reason, the Blanchards never had to worry about remaining home for trick or treaters. And truth be told, the children of Daihmler were probably far too afraid to venture out to the house where witches were rumored to live. Constantinople drove the family into town, parking at the Piggly Wiggly which was on the corner of two very large neighborhoods. He and his wife escorted the three girls along the dimly lit sidewalks where herds of children meandered from house to house. Ghosts, spacemen, Frankensteins, Draculas, and more than one Davy Crockett dodged and darted around people, hedges, and fence lines to gather their sugary sweets.
Olympia, Zelda, and Pastoria recognized a few faces from school. The other children noticed them as well but dared not speak as much as a friendly hello. It mattered little to the trio as the excitement of the holiday swept them up completely. Besides, they had each other. As they approached one festively decorated house with jack-o’-lanterns rising up the porch steps and swaying ghosts running the perimeter of the trees, Olympia felt a sudden shove upon her back. She stumbled, caught before hitting the ground by Zelda’s quick reflex. Billy Zato turned back to give a menacing laugh as he beat her to the front door.
“He shoved you!” Pastoria cried out indignantly.
“He’s a pest.” Olympia said, waving it off. “It doesn’t matter.”
It stung her father’s heart to see other children so brazenly cruel to his daughter. He had to remind himself to take the high road and not publicly admonish other people’s children. That would not make things easier on his daughters. Yet as Billy Zato rushed back past them toward the next house, Constantinople heard a loud bang ring out behind him. Whirling around to see the commotion, he observed the rude young boy standing shell shocked on the sidewalk staring incredulously at what had been his plastic jack-o’-lantern pale full of candy. All around his feet lay broken bits of the orange plastic bin, and the surrounding candy was all melted to the ground. Billy looked at his hand where he still clutched the handle of the now incinerated pail. Constantinople’s eyes moved towards his wife. Angharad stood triumphantly presenting a devious smile. Of course, sometimes bad people do not suffer their comeuppance as they should. Instead of mourning the loss of his loot, hoodlum Billy Zato simply tossed down his broken handle and grabbed the first bag of candy he saw from a nearby child and sprinted off down the road. The girl, similar in age to Pastoria, began to cry.
Constantinople was just about to abandon his rule of disciplining other children when he saw his daughter Olympia dart off down the sidewalk after the thief. Pastoria and Zelda walked over to the heartbroken candy victim to console her. It became clear from the interaction; Pastoria knew the girl. They were classmates. Constantinople moved quickly down the street to follow his daughter in her pursuit of the wicked boy. As he rounded the corner of the block, he stopped in his tracks to witness the scene. Olympia stood with her hands outreached towards Billy. Billy was not moving. Completely frozen in place by the young witch’s power.
Seeing her father now, Olympia gave him a sorrowful look. “Oh, Father I am sorry. I know I am not supposed to use my powers in front of people.” She lifted the bag of candy from the stone-still boy’s hand.
Constantinople approached the child lovingly. Placing his gentle, but firm hand upon her shoulder, he simply replied, “Our purpose on this earth is to protect The Natural Order. Thievery is wrong. You were righting a wrong. I will overlook your actions this one time.”
She smiled up at him and took hold of his hand to lead him back to the other street. “Olympia, my dear,” he said. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”
Olympia turned back towards Billy and cast her spell again, freeing him from his suspended state. The boy stared at her with a mixture of fright and indignance. Olympia simply gave a little wave and a chuckle as she and her father returned to the scene of the crime. Pastoria’s classmate was still crying as Zelda and Pastoria tried to soothe her feelings. Then they saw Olympia coming back—bag of candy in hand.
“Here you go,” Olympia told the younger girl as she returned her stolen property. The girl was extremely grateful. So much so she almost hugged Olympia…that is until she spotted other children approaching who she knew from school. She took her bag and ran off unceremoniously.
Olympia, Pastoria, and Zelda stood together for a moment watching her flee. They understood. Though grateful--though now understanding she may have been wrong about her preconceived notions of the three outcasts--the little girl was still not brave enough to befriend them in front of the rest of their little society. And that was okay. Olympia, Pastoria, and Zelda had each other. And that was all they really needed.