Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dearest Cecil, Love, Ramona

Dearest Cecil,

All prayers that this letter finds you in the best of health and spirit. Inserted, you will find a recent photo of me. I must apologize profusely for neglecting to write sooner. You've no doubt heard the gossip, but I have every confidence that you, dear Cousin, will have reserved your judgment for the end of the story - namely my own. Auntie "Dreadful" Delores, as we so fondly named her all those years ago, has made no secret that the family is well shot of me. For my part, aside from Uncle Frank, I miss no part of that dreary, dank house.

I reside in Indiana now as housekeeper for the Blankensops, the head of which has family connections to those in Ohio, known for their artful glass sculptures. I've even been fortunate enough to see the process itself from start to finish, and it's pure magic! They have two small children, a boy and a girl - and so much like you and I were at that age. I often catch them playing at castles and fairy tales in the garden.

Life is a complete dream now, and it is almost unthinkable that just a year ago my soul was on the brink of utter damnation. I shock you with my words, but it is all too true!
The only place to begin is with the Otis Clapp Apothecary. Do you remember the Clapp family? Mr. Clapp and his wife Marian were as much a part of that town as the stone pillars are a part of Rome! It seemed to me that they had always been there, and had always been ancient. Sadly, Mr. Clapp died from heart trouble, and Mrs. Clapp unable to cope, had to fetch her sons from out West to come and support her in her time of trouble. The running of the druggists could not be put squarely on her weary shoulders. Some wondered aloud why it took the death of their father for Martin and Stewart Clapp to visit their mother. No one had seen either of them for going on 15 years.
But come they did, and Martin, leaving his own business in the hands of a trusted friend, packed up his wife and four children and made his way into town to take over the Apothecary. Stewart had no business, no wife, no children, and I dare say not one penny to his name. Yet they both immediately set their father's affairs in order, payed bills and did the duty of good sons by relieving their poor mother of worry and hassle. She now spends her days sitting on the porch reading scandal novels, and acquiring slews of mangy black cats.

Because Auntie Dolores insisted I make weekly trips to the Clapp's for Vapor-Ol I came to know the brothers themselves fairly well in time. Stewart was roguishly handsome and a flatterer (he once told me I reminded him of Grace Sutherland). I would see him in the company of a different young woman each day. Sometimes, that young woman would leave the city for months at a time, and upon her return, had nothing but icy glares to offer Stewart Clapp. Even so, his jovial nature and blithe spirit kept him in the good graces of nearly everyone in town. Even the local chapter of the WCTU would simply cluck their tongues and shake their heads when that "incorrigible boy" of 36 was seen stumbling out of some low public house. In fact, it is the villain Stewart Clapp who would be the instrument of my ruin.

You'll recall that Aunt Dolores never wanted to admit to her Spanish blood. Her favorite phrase has always been "Let us not fall victim to that blood." Remember the summer you spent with us and the disaster of the fancy dress ball? I will never forgive Aunt Dolores for shouting me down about my "risque" Maravilla rose and tearing it from my hair in front of all and sundry. I did not mean to strike her, but it was out of defense. My mother was the other side of the same coin. She wanted to declare her heritage from the rooftops, and I took after her in manner, in dress, and temperament. Perhaps I remind Aunt too much of her dear lost sister. I have tried to reason away her hatred of me for years, and that is the closest explanation I can muster.

You were of great comfort to me that night Cousin, which meant all the more to me because it was apparent to all in attendance that you had fallen in love with Caroline Mewes at first glance, and were absolutely besotted with her. Yet you stayed near me, wiped my tears, calmed my rage, and commiserated in my shame! It is of great happiness to me that you were able to catch Caroline up before she departed and make your intentions known that very night. Seeing you beam with pure love at the sight of your bride on your wedding day was truly a gift I will always cherish.

It was after you went to search for Caroline that Stewart Clapp found me sitting forlorn and dejected in the gazebo. In between mocking Aunt Delores and giving me the false assurance that "no one had taken any notice" of our scuffle, was able to elicit some laughter from me. He was drunk, but I did not feel any danger or threat from his presence.
Emboldened by the moonlight and my vulnerable state, the scoundrel took the liberty of a kiss! I reeled back in shock, but before I could react, a dark figure on the path ahead let out a loud gasp and shouted "Ramona Ann!" in the most disappointed and hopeless tone I have yet heard. It was Aunt Delores. From her perspective, I was the Great Whore of Babylon. Stewart Clapp forgotten, I ran after her with futile explanations, none of which sounded innocent or probable even to my own ears. In her mind, all her fears were confirmed. She locked herself in her room and refused to speak to me for weeks except to demand ever more Vapor-Ol or to ask "What would your mother say?". I was thankful for the silence.

I encountered more gaping stares and covert whispers than the spectacle of a two-headed dog each time I ventured from the house, but I did not let that hinder my duties as a caregiver to Uncle Frank. It was at this time that I was the recipient of much compassion from Martin Clapp. Of all of our neighbors, he was the only one who looked me full in the eyes to greet me, and inquired after my health. He seemed genuinely angry with his brother and had even sent him on a journey to pick up goods from out of state to keep him out of further troubles. When I stopped in we chatted about the undiscovered world at hand (being a naturalist he knew much about he subject) and discussed books we'd recently read on the topic. His wife, though a sweet and gentle soul from a prominent Southern family, had been encouraged in her youth to pursue perfect femininity, which resulted in her occupation with ritual beautification and the magpie-esque gathering of glimmering objects. We both seemed to be in need of a friend.

Soon, I found myself inventing reasons to run into Martin Clapp. He insisted I call him by his Christian name, and I allowed him to refer to me as Miss Ramona. During church services, he would often seek me out and remark upon the sermon or invite me to his home for tea. I would invariably accept, Martin and I wiling away hours talking of common interests and delighting in silly events we witnessed from the prior week, whilst Mrs. Clapp smiled politely and eventually excused herself from the room to finish needlework or look in on the children. This pleasant association went on for months, until there came a day when I was invited to tea by Martin Clapp while Mrs.Clapp was visiting relatives in Georgia.

I know it was wicked, Cousin, but you must not think ill of me! Sometimes events fall into place like a puzzle game, and it seems that all is right and proper at the time. It is the judgment of others I must bear now, but never the guilt of my own human heart.
That Spring was the most beautiful time of my life, and I know Martin feels the same. Due to his circumstances, we knew we only had a brief time together - never privy to when the candle would burn out, only that it surely must. The end came in the form of Aunt Delores, naturally.

Rumors began to get about regarding Mr. Clapp and I during his wife's absence. Once Aunt Delores caught wind of the impending scandal, she took it upon herself to write to Mrs. Clapp in full lurid detail, hoping she would return to take hold of her husband and cast me into exile.

This next portion is the most difficult for me to recount. Martin heard from his wife upon her receipt of Aunt's letter and to her amazement and my own, he wrote to her freely owning to all and declaring his love for me. He heard nothing further from his wife at that time, and we began to make fanciful plans to run away to India and live out our lives under assumed names in a foreign land. We knew it was all folly, for he had small children to be a father to, and by the time his wife had arrived back into town, we had said our tearful goodbyes.

Aunt Delores demanded I leave her home, having enlisted the services of a nurse to care for Uncle Frank. She informed me that the disgrace of my wanton behavior and "bad blood" will haunt our family for generations, and she never wanted to know me again, nor hear of my life or death. I made hasty preparations to leave the city as I had already secured my present position as housekeeper months earlier unbeknownst to Dreadful Delores.

The day of my departure, I was up and about in the wee hours, making sure all of my loose ends were tied, and I had just sat down to write a farewell letter to my beloved Martin. The doorbell rang and I rushed to open it thinking it was Martin come to see me off, not being able to bear separation without one last embrace. Instead, there stood a disheveled and wan Mrs. Clapp clutching a letter in her fist. The vision of this typically prim, unassuming, sweet woman standing wilted yet determined and deathly white in my doorway filled me with undescribable panic. For an eternity she said nothing. Attempting to break the silence I stammered, "Won't you come in, Mrs. Clapp?" As I stepped aside, she glided into the foray, never removing her unblinking eyes from my own.
"Is it true", she stated. It was not a question.What could I say but "Yes." She approached me very slowly and took my left hand in her own. We were standing by the writing desk. She glanced down at my unfinished letter on which I had written merely "My Beloved Martin," and smiled coldly. "Just as I must remember you forever, you shall remember me" she whispered, producing a knife from her coat pocket. I flinched and instantly tried to wrench my hand from her grasp but it was clenched within the steel of her hatred. 
She forced my palm upon the writing desk and began to saw at my fingers with the blade. More terrible than the pain, was the abject terror I felt coursing through my veins. I must have been screaming, for Aunt Delores was roused from her slumber and in an instant the two women seemed to be struggling for control of the knife. A midst the gore, cascades of blood and utter chaos I espied three of my very own fingers lying on the heart-pine floor. For some reason, I made my way towards them and tried to pick them up. The next thing I remember is waking up at the local hospital with Aunt Delores at my bedside. She was weeping, clutching my only in-tact hand, and blathering about Mrs. Clapp going back to the sanitarium for a good rest. Prior to coming to our city, she had been in a hospital for nerves going on two years. She had even attacked Martin once with a knitting needle. "I put my hand to God that I didn't know about her history, Ramona" she told me. "I swear to you I didn't know."

As a result, Aunt Delores did me a good turn by contacting the Blankensops (she'd rifled through my belongings to discover where I was headed) and weaving a story about a freak accident suffered in the service of attempting to save the life of a child. (How Auntie continues to deny her Spanish blood, I'll never know). She was even clever enough to encourage them to use my second name, Angelica, saying that it was in homage to my mother. In the end, she sent me away with a tidy sum and a custom-made tale of woe to start life over again, and that I have. Now you have the explanation of my peculiar pose in the photograph I have included within this correspondence. But do not feel sorry for me Cousin! Romance has cost me dear, but one must develop a sense of humor about these things. I am contented now to take a page from Marian Clapp - to simply read about the scandals of others!

My love to you and yours,


(Author: Clarissa Allison aka: morphoeugenia)

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