MAGPIE TALE: White Wash
When visitors came to Elvin Corners during the winter and remarked how quaint it looked, Taryn Stockbridge, wife of the town moderator would snarl, "God's whitewashing. It will cover up the secrets for the season, but they'll all come out in the thaw."
Elvin Corners was a village filled with many secrets, some darker than others. Little Ralphie Dunagin was a good example. He may have looked harmless as his German Shepherd pulled his sled, but if his parents ever found those magazines he stole from behind the counter at the Rexall Drug, it would be a different story. And even worse, he had taken to cutting out the most graphic images of the female form from the magazine, pasting them on construction paper and writing notes on the order. "Hi, my name is Lulu. You may not remember that night in Hartford last June since you were so drunk. I thought this candid picture might help you remember. Leave me $100 in unmarked bills on the second to bottom shelf of the Poli-Sci stacks at the Westside Carnegie Library or I'll spill the beans to your wife and boss. No monkey business, mister. Just the dough."
Ralphie had bought himself two top of the line Schwinns before he finished fourth grade, and his parents even bought the fib that he had earned all the money from his paper route.
Then there was Herschel Hershberger. Everyone said there couldn't be a nicer guy in Elvin Corners than "Hersh", the night time and weekend pharmacist at the Rexall. Most folks in town were really cheap and hated to go to the doctor. On top of that, no one wanted to drive the 40 miles into Lowell to the nearest emergency room. So unless you had a severed hand or stroke, you went to see "Hersh" when anything came up. Always sporting a smile and free advice, he gained the reputation of being the philosophical pharmacist. He was also the most eligible bachelor in town, and the various war widows and spinsters wondered how this one got away. He always sat in the back of the Rialto and the boldest women would whisper "Maybe he doesn't like girls."
He didn't like girls, alright, and he didn't like boys or sick babies or whining old biddies. When business was slow, he'd write on his pad "I'm sick and tired of the sick and tired. I'm sick and tired of the sick and tired...."
It was Thanksgiving Day 1949 when he set his plan into motion. Angry about working on a holiday and having to hear so many stories about sore throats and joints, he swapped Mrs. Greenwood's heart pills with Mr. Norton's malaria prevention pills. Week by week, he continued his plan, most people not noticing that they now had a small oblong pill instead of a small round pill. Strange ailments started popping up. A third of the elderly population died in the spring of 1950, a perfectly warm flu free spring. When Clara Erville, only 28 years old, had a stroke at her daughter's first communion, the police started to piece the trail back to "Hersh" and the Rexall. He got wind of the cops heading his way and skipped town before sundown.
Word has it that he turned up working at a health clinic with German missionaries in Sierra Leone. That may have helped him turn his life around. He always hated the New England winters.
It was no surprise that Kyle Kuchar was a bit "off". He was the only survivor of Elvin Corners' only quadruplets. His oldest sister Kara died three days after birth in the hospital, and not too surprising since she weighed only four pounds, compared to Kyle at nine. (They were clearly fraternal not identical quads.) Then sister Kelly fell down a well in their back yard on her second birthday. Kyle was found screaming and crying when his mother rushed in horror to discover what had just happened. But he went silent the moment she arrived, clutching the Shirley Temple doll that was Kara's prized possession and that she never let him touch. Kyle and his brother Kelvin were inseparable and finished each others sentences. But when Kelvin disappeared on a hiking weekend in the Adirondacks in their junior year, Kyle seemed oddly untouched.
Though he graduated top of his class, Kyle had no ambition to go to university and worked as a stock boy at the A & P. Then he quit on his 23rd birthday. Retreating to his bungalow on Carson Avenue where the drapes were never open, the Christmas tree was up year round, and he wore his holiday sweaters well past Memorial Day and pulled them back out Labor Day weekend.
Again, no one ever knew that Kyle did anything really illegal, but they never felt comfortable around him.
L.V. and Wanda Napier were raising their grand-daughter La Rue with help from Wanda's spinster sister Verona who finally abandoned her dreams of being a Broadway chorus girl and returned to Elvin Corners. Verona had a small walk on role on in the Hartford production of "Out of This World" and was the second understudy to a dancer in "Charlie's Aunt" but lately had been working the glove counter at Stern's Department Store for $.75 an hour.
Wanda had many wrenching stories about Verona's early days and was fond of showing pictures of her from the 1930s "before the accident". Exactly what the accident was, no one fully understood. Rumor had it that she was hit by a bus while on a drunken pub crawl with a sailor from Topeka in Elizabeth, New Jersey. When Verona would come to the breakfast table in her tight fitting night gown, Wanda would turn to La Rue and say, "Baby, look across the table. That's why you should always do your exercises and never eat processed meat."
Surely there could not be anything that more embodied the innocence of childhood and the awe of winter than little Annadelle Axtell. That porcelain face, those fragile lashes, her golden locks.
She was a curious child and one who found great delight in play and pretend. Though only six, she was well aware that Mrs. Greenwood, three doors down, was suffering from dementia and had spent the past four decades mourning the loss of her husband Everett who died early in World War I and their lovely daughter Eva Belle whom Everett never lived to see but was the light of Mrs. Greenwood's life -- until that day in 1918 when her nightgown caught fire from the candles on the Christmas tree.
Mrs. Greenwood always blamed herself for both tragic losses. Late at night, Annadelle would tiptoe to the kitchen and cover her face in flour and then walk down Archer Avenue in her night gown and bare feet and entered Mrs. Greenwood's back porch through the screen door that was never locked. With the flashlight below her chin to give effective lighting, Annadelle would begin softly. "Mommy...Mommy..." And then she would tiptoe to Mrs. Greenwood's bedroom and scream "Why did you let me die!" and then would drop the flashlight and run back home, snug under the covers of her bed seconds later.