Monday, November 30, 2015

Emma Knotwell #3

Emma Knotwell leaned against the counter in her small kitchen, absently stirring a cup of tea she held in her hand and staring out the window at the boy cutting grass across the street. She was a slender and plain woman, tall and erect, a wan round face framed by unapologetically graying hair that fell thickly and haphazardly to her shoulders. A simple light green and brown print dress hung loosely on her spare frame, falling just below her knees. Brown ballerina flats lay near where she had kicked them off. Emma had just gotten home from work, a secretary for a local bail bondsman with offices near the county courthouse.

The late afternoon summer sunlight gleamed off the boy’s sweating torso.

Emma had never married, and her only experience with males had been a few clumsy encounters in 9th grade. That embarrassment could still redden her face with shame, so she learned to like very much her own uncomplicated company, and she liked to read.

She was also a compulsive pack rat who could never bring herself to throw anything away. Boxes of stuff, the origins of which she had long ago forgotten, lay stacked on tables, the floor, and along all the halls in her house. She skillfully navigated increasingly narrow spaces as time wore on.

Nobody really knew her, other than her boss, Bucky Best Bail Bonds, and a train of unsavory clients of Bucky’s who had both benefitted from his work and rued their fate for ever having met him.

Emma had learned how to vanish, as it were, as the youngest daughter of the town fire chief. A garrulous and hail fellow to his friends and neighbors, Dick Knotwell was a taskmaster to his three daughters. He had always wanted a son, but he and his wife Mary never had one. He had tried to train his oldest daughter, Conway, to do “boy” things like playing catch, whittling, going fishing, and cutting firewood, but she never took to it. She preferred ballet.

He again tried with their second child, Dani, but she was seriously injured snow-boarding after her father had insisted she give it a try. Emma was just old enough to remember hospital visits, her mother crying and her father shouting, Dani’s homecoming, and then the ever-present wheelchair and Dani’s withering legs.

Emma had been a “mistake,” born eight years after Dani. Her father had not wanted another child, much less a girl. Growing up, Emma sensed his estrangement and kept her distance. He would not experiment with gender mechanics again; Mary had forbidden it.

By the time Emma turned teenager, both Conway and Dani had left the house for marriage and school respectively, and the Knotwell household had become quiet indeed.

Emma had been closest to Dani. Perhaps she felt a kinship between cripples, Dani by accident and herself by design? By her father? By her personality? She wasn’t sure, but Emma was as cocooned away from people as Dani was from walking. She never forgot what Dani said to her as she was packing to leave for nursing school. “Emma, honey, I can’t walk, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get to where I want to go. You can walk, but please don’t do it alone. It would be a sad journey.”

Emma watched the boy cutting rows, back and forth. She was thinking how her hair had started turning gray when she was in her 20s. She would see the odd strands in the mirror, and being very much in tune with her inner self, figured that the emerging colorlessness suited her just fine. But now she wondered why she had thought that. Today, she had found out that she very much did not want to die alone, colorless and forgotten.

Bucky had been processing some bail releases, one after another on a pile, when he stopped suddenly and muttered, “well, goddamn…” He was staring at the local paper and looked up quizzically, catching her eye.

“What?” she asked.

“Remember the Rodman case, drug rap, 20K bond that skipped?”

“What, a few months ago?”

“Yeah, that one. Dead. It was the smell.”

“The smell?”

“Yeah,” said Bucky, “the smell. Buried under a pile of hubcaps in his apartment. Dead for a month, they say. Neighbors finally smelled him, called the cops.”


“He collected them. Hundreds of them stacked ceiling high. I’d seen them when we first bonded him. Weird, I thought, but whatever. He must have been lying under them when I was knocking at his door a few weeks ago. Didn’t smell anything then, though,” he paused. “Maybe we can get the bond back, now.”

“No friends or family?” Emma asked.

“Nobody knew him at all.”

The boy across the street finished his mowing and killed the engine. A lone fly buzzed up against Emma’s screen window. The boy used his tee shirt to wipe himself down, draped it over his shoulder, and walked into the house. Emma thought of the boxes stacked in her house as she followed the boy’s denim backside disappearing behind the front door.