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 my life and as used to it as if it was a sneeze or a sigh. Yet with all the activity of this day I am feeling the onset. Connie is going to help me.”
I was surprised by this confession because though Miss Annie was no youngster (and now her slowness had all gathered back around her like the dusk) she seemed the picture of health the whole time I had been in her company.
She said that Connie would tie the rope lying on the porch around her waist so that she wouldn’t harm herself. She had been reliably told that she could carry on like a crazy thing and I must not mind any- thing she said. Of utmost importance was that I not untie her no matter how she asked.
She spoke absolutely calmly, and it took a quick eye to see that her hand already had a tremor.
Connie helped her into the rocking chair and wound her round with the rope that was lying on the porch. She aided him where she could. By then her breath was coming hard as a train bearing down the track.
“You may leave if you wish,” said Annie. Already her eyes had a strange glint.
“No, I’ll stay.”
“Suit yourself, child.”
I could see the roll of her eyes. On the porch it had gone pitch dark from one minute to the next. Connie gave a last, hard yank on the rope and he stood up and went inside, closing the door behind him.
Then I put my long legs crosswise on the sodden step and opened my mouth to make a pleasant comment but there was no hearing my thought for Annie had begun to yowl.
The next morning I bolted upright and ran right down the stairs naked and chased by demons. In my dream I tried to dive into the steam to escape their evil refrain but when I opened my eyes under the water I saw the ugly world that lurks only under the surface of this one. As soon as I got to the bottom of the step I knew instantly that was no nightmare, nor was this the mother of all hangovers and what had happened to me last night was no dream.
Instead it was the truth. Miss Annie had turned to me, a woman transformed. She snarled like a moun- tain cat and spit like a snake. She stomped the porch
boards and howled. She bucked and struggled. “Untie me you cracker and I’ll teach you songs that make the population rush to the bins and have to own the maker.”
She shrieked, “Connie is my warden and he’s only gone for a moment.” And when I refused to release her, she began to sing. The songs were as awful in their meaning as they were beautiful in their music. They poured forth like hot revival from the tent of her tormented face. At its memory I threw an old coat over my nakedness and ran straight to the kitchen.
Connie was giving the oatmeal a circle with his spoon.
“I want to go home. Right now.”
The door opened and in came Miss Annie.
Though I was as scared as a child my voice was steady. “No closer.”
I was afraid to hear her again, but she only said, “The bus is regular monthly. I will call it for a special pick up.”
“Thank you,” I said. I had to walk past her to exit the kitchen.
I went upstairs to dress and gather my things. I put some sheets of music in a brown folder I had begun to carry for that purpose. Then I sat on the bed. I was not leaving that room until I saw my own face in the mirrored shades of my erstwhile driver going away from Miss Annie Sugar’s cabin in the Mount Hood Forest of the devil state of Oregon.
Some hours later I was lying on the bed and there was a knock on the door. I opened it a crack and saw that Connie had left me a tray. At first I meant to eat noth- ing more from this house of fiends, but I was just a young fellow with not a lick since our lunch at the bitterly reflected picnic. I reasoned that I had been eating the cooking upon arrival and it had done me
no harm. So I took in the tray. Next to it in the hall someone had tilted my guitar.
Though the repast did nothing to change my mind it had a calming effect on my senses. I put my elbows on the sill of the opened window to listen for the bus, but all was still. So I got up and brought in the guitar. I stood strumming a little, not thinking of what I was doing but letting my mind go back to the black night.
Then—O, I am ashamed to mention it—a tune came
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