Friday, 4 May 2018

An Explosion of Flies When Dinner Was Lunch

            On Tuesday it was quite a warm day. I still hadn’t done my laundry and I was behind on my writing and didn’t want to take the time to go to the Laundromat so I decided to just wash three pairs of underwear. When I took them out back to hang on the fire escape I saw my next roof neighbour, Taro, sitting outside of his place with his ex-girlfriend. They were sitting and facing one another but she was on our roof with her feet up on the parapet. I joked in an exaggeratedly serious voice that she was on our property and would have to pay rent.
I went up the fire escape with my underwear and walked into a cloud of little insects. “Where did all these bugs come from?” Taro said, “They’re all over the place!” and speculated that the sudden blast of heat had pushed the metamorphosis of a lot of maggots.
I still hadn’t gotten my rent money, so I rode up to the Bank of Montreal at Bloor and Lansdowne. On the way home I stopped at the No Frills at Dundas and was surprised to see they’d rearranged the aisles in the produce section so they ran east and west rather than north and south. This really opened up the space because for all my memory of the store there was always a barrier on the right when one came in. Now it’s wide open. The ceiling seemed higher too but maybe my eyes were just drawn upward now by the open concept.
I didn’t buy much, just some grapes, a tomato, some yogourt, a couple of little packs of corned beef and another of prosciutto.
I rode immediately to Freedom Mobile to pay for my phone service. There always seems to be a Tibetan guy there speaking the language of the Pakistani guy behind the counter.
In the late afternoon I took a bike ride because I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather, since it was supposed to rain later in the week. But since I’d already ridden up to Bloor and back earlier, I decided to just go as far as Yonge and Bloor to give myself time to get caught up on my journal.
That night I watched an interesting Alfred Hitchcock Hour teleplay that wouldn’t have been out of place as a Twilight Zone story. It was called “Where the Woodbine Twineth” and it was based on a short story by Davis Grubb.
            A little girl named Eva has been orphaned and the only family she has left are her Mississippi riverboat captain grandfather and her spinster Aunt Nell, who runs the Captain’s house. Nell decides to become Eva’s caregiver, though she has no experience with children.  Nell is played by British actor Margaret Leighton, who doesn’t even try to hide her native accent with a US southern accent, even though the captain talks like a southerner.
After the funeral they bring Eva to the big house and Nell shows her to her room. “Is it dark where daddy is?” “I don’t know.” “Mingo knows! Mingo says it’s brighter than day! They have bumblebees there too!” “Who’s Mingo?” “A friend of mine. My best friend!” Eva runs to the window and looks outside. “What is it Eva?” “Nothing. It’s just that I’m expecting someone and I thought for a minute I saw them.”
Later the Captain and Nell are talking. He asks her if she’s sure she wants to keep Nell there. He offers to take her to her mother’s people. Nell says that Eva is her brother’s child and he would have wanted her to care for her. “Big job taking care of a six year old!”
The house has two Black servants that appear to be married. Suse takes care of the house and Jessie is the chauffeur and groundskeeper.
Suse brings Eva in to say goodnight. The little girl tells Nell she’s frightened and asks if she’ll sleep with her. She says she will for her first night.
As they are getting ready for bed Eva asks Nell, “If my arm ever fell off would I grow another one?” “I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that.” Mingo told me it would. I’ll be glad when Mingo comes and you can meet her!” “I’d like to meet her!” “You would?” "Of course!” “She’s not very big.” “How big?” “She’s big enough to live in a bird cage, but little enough to have a frog for a horse.” “I see.” “Do you hear the frogs?” “Lots of frogs.” “That means that Mingo’s coming! She’ll be here sometime tonight!” “Go to sleep.” “Do you believe me about Mingo? Tell me the truth.” “I think you have a wonderful imagination.” “That means you don’t believe me.”
There’s a full moon. Nell wakes up to see that Eva is not in bed. The closet door is ajar and Eva is sitting inside in the dark. “What are you doing in there?” “Mingo came. We’re playing hide and seek.” “Come back into bed!” “No!” “Eva!” “Oh all right!” Back in bed, Nell begins, “Eva …” “I don’t like you! I was having fun!” “You mustn’t talk back to me.” You’re not my mommy. My mommy’s dead. Mingo said she saw mommy and daddy dancing together down in the ground.” “You mustn’t make up things like that!” “It’s not made up. What Mingo says is so!”
The next day Eva is helping Suse with the housework and telling her, “Mingo brought her whole family with her cause her house caught on fire. Mr. Peppercorn is her father. He has a beard very much like the way grandpa used to wear on his chin, except Mr Peppercorn’s is red. Same colour as his eyes. Sam and Popo, they work for Mr. Peppercorn.” Suse is starting to vacuum under the davenport. “No! No Susie!” Eva grabs the wand of a vacuum. “That’s where they all live! Give it to me cause I know how to keep from hitting them!” Nell comes and says, “It’s nice to see you helping!” but then she leaves. Eva tells Suse, “They don’t like Aunt Nell. They always hide when they see her coming.” They go to the kitchen. Eva asks Suse, “Does loving someone make you not snippy?” “Some folk said it does.” “I love Mingo and Mr. Peppercorn, Sam and Popo, and I don’t feel snippy at all! So there must be some truth in what some folk say!”
Later Nell is walking past the living room and heard Eva talking to someone. She look in and sees Eva sitting in front of the couch and talking while looking underneath. “Who are you talking to?” “To my friends Mingo, Mr Peppercorn, Sam …” “Oh Eva!” “Yes ma'am?” “There’s no one in this parlour but you and me!” “You never believe me when I tell you things are real!” “They aren’t real!” “They are! They live under the davenport!” “Oh Eva!” “They’re little!” “Show them to me!” “No! They don’t like you!” “I want to see them!” “You can’t!” “Because they aren’t there!” “They are!” “We’ll see about that!” Nell goes to get her umbrella and begins to sweep it along under the couch while Eva yells “No!” Then Nell pushes the davenport back. “See? There’s nothing there!” “They’re gone!” “Because they were never there!” “You made my friends go away! You’re an awful old snippy old maid!”
The next day Nell looks for Eva to take her to meet her grandfather’s boat but she is nowhere to be found and so she leaves without her. Suse goes to the smokehouse to fetch a ham and finds Eva inside. She asked her why she didn’t go. “Because Mr Peppercorn came and I couldn’t be rude to Mr Peppercorn! He came back on a butterfly for just one minute!”
When Eva’s grandfather arrives he brings her a present. It’s a large box and without even opening he she says, “Numa!” She opens it and inside is a very large Black doll, at least half the size of Eva. “Numa! It’s Numa! He told me she’d be coming! Mr. Peppercorn said …” “Oh Eva!” “I don’t wanna be a tattletail grandpa, but Aunt Nell made them all go away! But this morning Mr. Peppercorn came back for just one minute. He said that when she poked at them she broke Sam’s foot and that none of them would ever come back with her in the house no matter how much they love me. They were sending me Numa instead. She’s just like he said!”
When Nell is talking to the Captain she says, “A child must learn to live with the reality of the world.” She wants the Captain to have a talk with Eva. She goes upstairs to get her and hears the sound of two children laughing in Eva’s bedroom. She opens the door and just sees Eva with her new doll. “Who was in here with you?” “You never believe me when I tell you things that are real!” “Tell me the truth!” “It was just me and Numa.”
Later Eva is playing with Numa at the kitchen table while Suse peels apples. Eva is reciting a nursery rhyme, “Bum bum, here I come. Where you from? New Orleans. What’s your trade? Lemonade. Get to work and I’ll show you something if you’re not afraid!” “What does Numa say today Eva?” “Numa says summer is just about over and life is very hard!” Nell comes in and asks if Eva wants to go to town with her. “Can I bring Numa?” “I don’t want everyone in town seeing my niece walking around and talking to a doll!” “Then I’d rather stay here and play.” Nell leaves. “Aunt Nell doesn’t like Numa any more than she likes Mr. Peppercorn. Numa said that if Aunt Nell ever made her go away like she did the others, she’d take me with her.” “And where would that be?” “Where the woodbine twineth.” “I don’t recollect ever hearin of that place before!” “I expect it’s so far away you never come back.” Then Eva begins singing, “Never come back where the woodbine twineth, never come back … We don’t just always talk. Sometimes we get tired of that. When we do, we just play.” “What do you play?” “Jacks, bum-bum, house, dress up, dolls. Sometimes we just play doll.” “Just plain old doll?” “Sometimes Numa gets tired of being the doll.” “She does?” “Real tired of being the doll, so I play doll and she puts me in the box and plays with me.” “She puts you in that box?” “Mmhmm!” “And you’re the doll?” “Mmhmm!”
When Nell comes home she hears Eva in the trees behind the house singing “Bum Bum”. Again she hears the sound of two children and then through the bushes sees two children dancing together. She goes to them but only finds Eva with Numa in the box. “Who were you playing with?” “I’m not going to tell you!” “You were playing with one of those children from down by the river! Where did she go?” “There was no one here but me and Numa!” “I suppose you’re going to tell me it was Numa I saw!” “You never believe me when I tell you things are real!” “We’ll put a stop to this nonsense right now!” Nell takes Numa away from her and takes her to the house, placing her on top of the player piano. “I want my Numa!” “You can have her back when you tell me who you were playing with just now!” “I hate you!” “Don’t you talk that way to me!” “Shut up!” Nell sends Eva to bed without her supper and suddenly the player piano come on by itself. She is frightened and calls for Jessie, who fixes the machine. Nell locks the parlour and puts the keys in a bowl on a high shelf. Eva is watching her from the top of the stairs. Nell is on her way out and sees Suse carrying a tray up to Eva. “It’s all right isn’t it? She didn’t have any dinner either!” Nobody distinguishes supper from dinner like that anymore but I remember when dinner was lunch and supper was the evening meal.
Later Eva sneaks downstairs, climbs on a chair and gets the keys to the parlour. As soon as she closes the door behind her the piano begins to play again. Jessie goes back in to fix it and then leaves. Eva comes out of hiding and takes Numa down.
            When Nell comes home she sees the parlour open and the doll is gone. She goes upstairs but Eva is not in her room. Nell hears Eva’s voice in the back yard and follows the sound. She hears another little girl say, “Life is hard but where the woodbine twineth it’s summertime all the time! There’s apples and peaches and you can play anything you want anytime you want to play it! The jacks are the stars and the ball is the sun and the moon. There’s candy canes and everybody has a dog!” As Nell is walking towards the voice she cuts and cleans a switch. She sees Eva holding hands and dancing in a circle with a little Black girl and they sing, “Where the woodbine twineth” over and over again. But when Nell breaks through into the clearing there is only a little Black girl holding the doll box. “So you’re the child who’s been sneaking up here to play with Eva!” She begins swinging the switch around her in a threatening way and shouts, “Scat! You go on home!” The girl shakes her head but Nell keeps swinging. “You go on home and never come back!” The girl runs away. Nell calls for Eva several times and then looks down at the doll box. Inside, instead of Numa is a blonde doll the same size. Nell screams. She grabs the box and runs in the direction that the little Black girl ran, calling “Numa! Come back! Please!” Nell collapses on the ground, holds the blonde doll in her arms and in tears repeats the name “Eva” over and over.
            The original story is almost word for word the same as the teleplay. Davis Grubb was most famous for his novel, “Night of the Hunter”, which was also made into a film.

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