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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 5: Takano 14
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Hastings 187
“Let me get you a couple towels, and you can use one of my robes. If you give me all your clothes and bedding, I can run them through the wash for you while you’re bathing and eating. I’m sure you would like a good hot bath.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you,” Tommy said. The fact was, she would love a good hot bath and a decent meal. She unpacked her dirty clothes and blankets, and in a few minutes had been shown the bathroom and exchanged the clothes from her body for a robe and towels.
“There’s bubble bath there, if you want it. There’s just something relaxing about bubble bath; I don’t know what it is, but in any case it will help soak the dirt away.”
Again she thanked her hostess, and set about filling the tub. The house was not terribly unlike her own--that is, it was a typical suburban house with similar electrical and plumbing. She thought she should charge her laptop and phone while she was here, but she wasn’t sure whether the people here would know anything about laptops or cell phones, so she’d have to be cautious.
She almost fell asleep in the tub, but a knock on the door startled her. “Yes?” she called, and a slightly muffled voice came through the door.
“Is grilled cheese and tomato soup all right?”
Tommy paused. She’d eaten quite a bit of cheese recently, but she didn’t want to pass up a decent meal, and the cheese was better than the oats. Before she answered, the voice added, “I can add a slice of ham to the cheese.”
“Sorry. That would be wonderful, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Oh, no trouble at all. I have to feed Tammy anyway, and what’s one more sandwich?”
“Thank you very much,” she said. “I’ll be right out.”
“No rush. I’ve started your wash, but you’ll have to wear the robe for a bit until it’s done.”
Tommy thought she might feel a bit funny in a strange house wearing nothing but someone else’s robe; but the robe covered her well, and anyway she hadn’t seen or heard any boys in the house, so she shouldn’t worry too much. When she opened the door, she found a pair of fuzzy slippers waiting for her so she put these on her feet. She would have gone barefoot, but it seemed impolite not to accept the offered hospitality.
The little girl, Tammy, was sitting at a kitchen table in a booster seat of sorts on one of the chairs. “We’ll sit you here,” Mrs. Billings said as she placed a plate with a grilled sandwich next to a cup of soup in front of a chair cater-cornered from Tammy. “What can I get you to drink?”
Tammy was drinking from a sippy-cup, the plastic sort with the lid, so she couldn’t see what the girl was drinking. “What do you have?” she asked.
Mrs. Billings opened the refrigerator and looked. “Milk, orange juice, apple juice, some canned sodas. There’s beer, too, but you’re probably not old enough for beer.”
“No, I think milk would be good, thank you.”
In a moment there was a glass of milk delivered to her. “Thank you,” she repeated.
“You’re quite welcome,” Mrs. Billings replied, with some enthusiasm. Then she sat at the table across from Tommy with her own soup and sandwich, and a glass of what Tommy guessed was the apple juice. After a moment of silence, Mrs. Billings said, “So, tell me about your trip.”
Tomiko was thankful that she’d just taken a bite of the sandwich; having a full mouth gave her an excuse to delay her response as she chewed, swallowed, took a sip of the milk, and thought about what to say. Thinking of something, she shrugged and replied, “Not much to say, really. At least, not yet. I’m still processing.”
It was clear that Mrs. Billings didn’t understand the word. “You know, thinking. Like a computer processes data, trying to make sense of all the input.”
She looked just as puzzled. “I’ve heard of computers, of course,” she said, “but I really don’t know anything about them.”
“Oh. Well, my father’s an engineer, and he taught me quite a bit about them, I guess.”
“They say that one day computers will run everything.”
Again Tommy shrugged. “They’re right, in a way, just not how people expect. Probably in your lifetime there will be washing machines that use built-in computers to control how they wash your clothes, and telephones that remember all the phone numbers you usually call for you. But they won’t run your life, really, even when they start managing your bank accounts. Like most machines, we’ll use them because they make life easier.”
Mrs. Billings nodded as if she understood some of that, and then said, “So, your trip.”
Tommy had managed to get another bite of the sandwich, and so had time to think again. This time she washed it down with a bit of the soup, which was still hot enough that she almost burned herself. Recovering, she continued, “I don’t know. I was arrested once.”
“Yeah, the police wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there. I’d just been camping in the woods for quite a stretch, so I probably looked pretty grungy.”
“Not entirely sure, really. It seems some emergency came up, and they didn’t have time to deal with me, so I was released. Mostly, though, I’ve been camping in the woods, sleeping on the ground, and becoming acquainted with the woodland creatures. I saw an eagle,” she said, thinking that would be particularly interesting and not too bizarre.
“Really? We don’t see them around here often, other than in the zoo.”
“Well, this one was on the ground in a clearing in the woods. I’m not certain what it was doing, and then it flew away.”
Tammy interrupted at this point. “Eagle,” she said. “I want to see the eagle.”
Tommy smiled, turning her attention to the child. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. The eagle isn’t here. But maybe we can see the eagle later.”
“Eagles are nice,” Tammy said. Tommy wasn’t entirely certain that was true, but decided not to argue the point.
“Yes, they are.”
There was a bell somewhere in the distance. “That’s the dryer,” Mrs. Billings said, and rose from the table. “You finish eating; I’ll get your clothes folded for you.”
Tommy started to rise. “I can fold them.”
“Nonsense. You keep trying to eat that sandwich, and I keep interrupting you with questions. You eat, I’ll fold, and then you can get dressed.”
Tommy nodded, and remembered to say “Thank you” again before taking another bite of the sandwich. “It’s very good,” she said. “Best food I’ve had in a while.”
“Well, maybe you should join us for supper,” Mrs. Billings called from the next room as she was headed for the dryer. “It’s only spaghetti, but I’m making meatballs.”
“It sounds delicious,” Tommy called back. “But I don’t want to impose.”
“Nonsense. It’s not like I’ll have to make an extra box of spaghetti or something.”
The words faded, and it appeared that Mrs. Billings was still talking as she moved out of earshot. Tommy said to Tammy, “Can you hear what she’s saying?” Tammy laughed. “Me neither,” and she smiled conspiratorially. “My mom did that, too. Then she expected me to remember what she said when she was in the other room. So, how old are you?”
“I’m four years old,” the toddler replied.
“Four!” Tommy replied with the sort of enthusiasm one uses when talking with young children. “That’s quite an age to be. Soon you’ll be going to school, and everything.”
“Do you think you’ll like school?”
Tammy nodded again.
“Yes, school is good. I like school.” Then she wondered if she was ever going to get back to school again. She took another drink of the soup to hide her feeling, and in a moment Mrs. Billings returned.
“I don’t know what your plans were for tonight,” she said, “but we have a spare bedroom, and it would be more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, I’m sure. Then I can feed you breakfast in the morning and you can continue your adventure.”
Adventure--that was a good word for what was happening to her. It was a better word than nightmare, anyway. “I don’t want to put you out,” she objected, maybe a bit less than enthusiastically.
“Nonsense. You saved Tammy. You need a place to stay tonight. It’s the least we can do. Finish up, and let’s get you dressed. Need more milk?” As Tommy shook her head, Mrs. Billings turned her attention to finishing her own lunch.
“I want to go play,” Tammy said, and her mother swiftly rose from the table and retrieved a wash rag from the sink, with which she quickly wiped the child’s face and hands.
“O.K., you play, in the living room.” The girl hopped down from her seat and headed off.
Finishing her meal, Tommy said, “Thank you very much. It’s the best meal I’ve had in days, honestly, and I look forward to dinner. If you’ll point me to which room is mine, I think I’d like to get dressed now.”
“Certainly,” Mrs. Billings said, and started to rise.
“Oh, no, please, finish your lunch first,” Tommy said. “I can wait.”
Mrs. Billings smiled. “Thank you. Are you sure?”
“I won’t be a minute,” Mrs. Billings said, and finished her sandwich and soup rather quickly. “Now,” she said, wiping her mouth on a napkin, “let’s get you settled.”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #354: Versers Reorienting. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: