“Ladies? Imagine you are Atlas!” cried their dance instructor. This coming just after they had arranged themselves as the Three Graces.
Millicent discarded her momentary annoyance at how Mrs. St. Ruth always shouted “Ladies” as a question. Actually it was Claire who had pointed out the quirk one day as they gossiped about their teacher. Claire found it amusing. Now Millicent noticed it every time. She could feel Claire smirking behind her.
She told herself not to think about that and instead she imagined being Atlas. As she tried to get into character, she realized that she didn’t know much about Atlas. He was probably one of those Greek gods. “I hope he’s not being punished.” thought Millicent. “Not like that one god who brought fire to man and then was bound to a rock and every day a bird came and tore his heart out and ate it.”
In her mind Millicent pictured Atlas. There was a brushed chrome statue of Atlas on each of the front corners of a new building downtown. Each stood on a stone corbel and seemed to be using his corner of the building to help him support the weight of the world, which he held over his head.
“Atlas: bare-chested, powerful, enduring.” thought Millicent. “I would be his Amazonian Queen.” Millicent imagined herself six feet tall, with a quiver of arrows strapped to her back and carrying a bow taller than a man. Her dark hair would shine in the sun as she strode barefoot, hips swaying. She would wear a jeweled girdle, and straps made from the skin of a giant snake would hold a breastplate to her bosom. The songs of her sisters would echo through the hills. She would be beautiful. Men helplessly trapped by their desire to conquer her would come from every land and she would imprison them until the day she had an army large enough to shoulder the world and free her Atlas. Only then would she let Atlas kiss her.
“Millicent? Focus!” cried Mrs. St. Ruth.
“Oh dear. I tried to keep a dream journal once, but soon realized that I was a woman of small dreams. I found that I could only keep it up for a week, filling page after page with inane details. Here’s a sample. ‘…spent what seemed like hours outside a door waiting for someone to come out and ask me in. Luckily there was a chair. Also there was a cat nearby sitting on an enormous Persian rug. He knew me but was not feeling friendly.’
“Night after night of circuitous errands and vague misunderstandings with men I’ve never met before. It became too much. Oh of course every once in a while I would have a fascinating dream where I was an assassin or was eaten by a huge animal, but those were few and far in between.”
April 20, 1929
I have enclosed for your consideration the cover from one of those degenerate pieces of dime literature. I recently stumbled upon a large collection of such volumes in a shop and felt moved to share one or two with you for your amusement. The pictured lady is no doubt a poet, as she appears to be a lady of some refinement. My dear friend Mr. L_____ has noted that poets have the most remarkable lips (although I must note here that when he says “remarkable” he means “a little strange” or “perhaps bizarre” or “somehow unsettling.”) This may be a too rough or unkind appraisal of the lady, but I do say that her lips are that of a poet.
What is that she is leaning upon?
Oh dear look at the time. Ta ta!
Mr. D_____ S______
February 7, 1908
——– o ———
The reply to D.S. from L. has been lost.
——– o ———
What a pleasure it is to hear from you. I am doubly gratified to learn that you took a moment of your time to consider my trifling missive.
I must confess that I had forgotten about that miserable fern which belonged to poor Constance. I hope that this statement will not shock you, as my affection for Constance (though please consider it always took the form of friendly affection) can only be said to have been the equal of my consternation over her fern. In short, I blame her untimely end on that dastardly pteridophyte. More properly, we may wish to refer to that plant as a vampire. It simply refused to brighten a room no matter where the poor dear placed it, and equally, no matter how much Constance tried to beautify it. That dire, black fern! To see her worry and fret over it while coughing consumptively. And after it had finally broken her heart, she relegated it to the foyer, a place of honor! I hope this does not worry you, but I really must confess my suspicions to a friend.
Perhaps that’s why I forgot all about the pedestal. I am picturing it in my mind’s eye and indeed agree with your assertion that she kept that dire fern upon it.
As for the lady, I had not considered her from this vantage. How droll! Hmmmm. I can only say that I would find her a bit intimidating.
Mr. D_____ S______
March 14, 1908
In case you have never been given a copy, I have attached for your consideration a photograph of the Ladies Rowing Club of 1891. Although I daren’t say that I am any more than acquainted with any one of them, I do consider this a very fine photo. Observe how Miss Beatrice has framed her composition. I can hear her now, calling to the ladies. “Petunia! Please don’t look so glum! Winnifred! We cannot READ the 91 on your oar! Will you please turn it a bit? Yes. That is fine.” I am sure there were plenty of groans before Miss Beatrice warned them to hold still for the shutter.
Notice how well Miss Myrtle has posed on the chair. I detect a great deal of prompting from Miss Beatrice. Unfortunately, Miss Petunia still looks glum. And who can blame her? I confess to being unaware of the events which led to her departure from Whelmsley, but her departure was sudden enough that I dare say something must have been bothering her during this shoot.
March 10, 1908