William’s Midsummer Dreams
It was on a Saturday near the end of September when the doorbell at 971 Eleanor Street rang long and loud, and then rang again. As William hurried to answer it, a sudden memory caused a shiver to slither up the back of his neck—a sneaky reminder of the time when that same doorbell’s impatient ringing turned out to be the first act in a true-to-life tragedy with a cast of three big, angry Baggetts—Big Ed Baggett and two of William’s enormous half brothers. Three of the people who had helped to make William’s life and the lives of his younger brother and sisters miserable, right up until the four of them had finally managed to escape again to Gold Beach to live with their aunt Fiona Hardison.
Forget it, he told himself. You and Jancy and the kids are legal Hardisons now. Forget the Baggetts. And he pretty much had. Except for sometimes late at night, when something deep inside his sleeping mind insisted on reminding him.
He shook his head hard. Hard enough, he hoped, to shake away all those persistent memories of his Baggett-haunted
past. Then he pulled the door open to reveal … just old Sam Miller, the Gold Beach mailman.
Pulling out a big red handkerchief, old Sam mopped his forehead and told William that a large package was waiting to be picked up at the post office. Picked up because there was no package delivery at the Gold Beach post office anymore.
“No use complaining, ’cause that’s just the way it is nowadays,” Mr. Miller said sternly. “Gov’ment’s got no money for delivery vehicles what with this here Depression we’re havin’. So if yer package is too big for poor old Sam to lug around, it’s up to you to come get it. And this one’s a big’un.” Then his scowl turned into a grin. “Think it’s somethin’ for you, kid. Got the name William S. Hardison printed right there next to your auntie’s address. Plain as can be.”
“Gee,” William said. “For me? Are you sure?” He must have sounded pretty surprised, because Mr. Miller grinned again and added that he’d just happened to notice that it had been mailed in Crownfield, but other than that there was no return address.
The fact that Mr. Miller had “just happened” to notice so many things about the package wasn’t that much of a surprise. According to Aunt Fiona, Sam Miller’s favorite words were “who,” “what,” and “how much.” “Who” had been getting interesting mail, “what” it might be, and even “how much” it cost. And recently
one of Mr. Miller’s special interests seemed to have been the “whos” and “whys” that lay behind the fact that longtime Gold Beach resident Fiona Hardison had quite suddenly acquired a large family.
Backing up carefully, and swinging the heavy mailbag off his shoulder, solid old Sam settled down on one of Aunt Fiona’s wicker porch chairs, making it sag and creak ominously. “Just gonna rest my bones here a minute or two,” he said, mopping his forehead again. “So you’re not ’spectin’ anything, boy? Didn’t send off for a basketball or something like that? Package looks ’bout that size.”
William shook his head, “No sir, no basketball. Nothing that I know anything about. Nothing at all.”
Okay, he’d just had his thirteenth birthday a few days ago, but he’d already received cards from Miss Scott and the Ogdens, and neither of them had said anything about sending a present. The only other people in Crownfield who knew where he was were Baggetts, and the odds against a Baggett sending a present to William S. Hardison were about a zillion to one.
Actually, it wasn’t the first time he’d gotten something in the mail since he and Jancy and the two little kids had come to live with Aunt Fiona. There had been one letter from Clarice Ogden. The one that Jancy had made such a fuss about because Clarice had written that she, too, was going to be at Mannsville next summer, and she knew that she and William were going to be very close friends.
Which, according to Jancy, proved that Clarice was in love with him.
Fat chance! Okay, so she did underline “very close friends,” but that didn’t mean anything. And the fact that when the four of them were hiding in her basement, she tried so hard to keep them from leaving didn’t mean anything either—except that she was an only child, and kind of lonely. And that one letter she’d sent him definitely didn’t say anything about sending a package.
As soon as the mailman finally went down the steps, William went looking for Aunt Fiona so he could quietly tell her about the package and ask if he could go downtown right away to pick it up. Quietly, because if Buddy heard, he’d be sure to insist on going too, and that would change a quick half-mile hike into an expedition that would probably take most of the day.
At the moment, Aunt Fiona was sitting at the dining room table getting ready for Columbus Day by attaching a big map to a cardboard frame—a map that showed the route taken by the Niña and Pinta and Santa María. All the kids in her class who wrote an essay about Columbus’s voyage were going to get to move their reading group’s ship an inch farther along. Aunt Fiona, who was a fourth-grade teacher, was always doing stuff like that.
Meanwhile, Buddy was running in and out of the room holding a toy biplane over his head and yelling, “Zoom-zoom-zoom” at the top of his lungs. And the
top of that kid’s lungs was right up there with a train’s whistle or a really loud clap of thunder. So it was under the cover of earsplitting zooms that William managed to have a private discussion with Aunt Fiona. “Mr. Miller says there’s a package for me at the post office. I could go pick it up right away. Didn’t you want me to get something at the grocery store?”
“Oh yes.” Knowing, without being told, why it was important to keep quiet about William’s errand, Aunt Fiona waited for the next flight to zoom through and disappear into the living room before she whispered, “Come with me,” got up, and led the way to the kitchen, where she washed the paste off her hands and, in the brief moments between incoming flights, wrote out a short list and gave William three dollars. “That ought to cover it,” she said. “And you might leave by the back door if you aren’t interested in an air force escort.”
He liked the subtle way his aunt put things. For instance, saying, “If you aren’t interested in an air force escort” instead of something like, “Better sneak out, or you’ll get stuck with Buddy.” Grinning good-bye, William quietly slid out the back door and, by ducking way down, was able to pass the living room windows without being spotted by his little brother.
And so he was off—striding rapidly toward downtown Gold Beach, without having to answer a lot of “whys” and “whats” and “how comes.” Not to mention having to
wait while four-year-old Buddy came down to earth long enough to squat down and carefully examine anything on the sidewalk that was the least bit disgusting—like dead stinkbugs, squashed snails, or piles of dog poop. Buddy seemed to have a special interest in that sort of thing, especially dog poop, where he usually wanted to discuss how big a dog had done it, and how long ago.
But now, as William walked rapidly down Eleanor Street with no questions to answer or sidewalk messes to inspect, he was able to let his mind roam on ahead of him. He thought about the package, of course, about what it might be and who could have sent it.
But after a while he began to think of other things. Like the argument he’d had that morning with Jancy. As a rule he didn’t have arguments with his sister, at least not very serious ones. Not even when she said really stupid things, like insisting that Clarice Ogden was in love with him. But this morning, while they were doing the breakfast dishes, she just seemed to be in a bad mood.
He didn’t know what could have set her off. All he’d done was to mention something about next summer, when he might be living on a college campus near San Francisco for most of the summer, playing a role in a big professional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He hadn’t said that much about it, like not even mentioning any of the things Miss Scott had said about how famous the Mannsville Shakespeare Festival was, or
why she thought he’d be a shoo-in for the part of Puck.
All he’d mentioned to Jancy was how he was marking off the days on the calendar until the school year was over and he’d be heading for Mannsville. But then Jancy had ducked her head and glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and said, “Yeah. Well, I guess I ought to think it’s swell that you’re going to be away all summer being a famous actor and not having to worry about”—long pause—“anything.”
But when he’d asked her what she meant, she’d only shrugged and turned her head away, so that her face was hidden behind a thick curtain of curly hair. Jancy did that a lot when she didn’t want you to know what she was thinking.
He should have known better than to press his luck, but he could see there was some sort of problem, and he really wanted to know what it was.
So he asked her right out, “Gee whiz, Jancy. Tell me. What’s the matter?”
“What do you mean?” Jancy said, turning away to put a stack of plates in the cupboard. “Nothing’s the matter. Not a thing.” That was exactly what she said, word for word, but the way she said it made it mean exactly the opposite.
Afterward, when William had time to give it some more thought, he still didn’t get it. He was pretty sure it wasn’t simply that Jancy was jealous of his good luck.
Jancy always had her own way of making decisions, and once they were made she really stuck to them, but she’d never been jealous of good things that happened to other people. At least not William and the little kids. She’d always seemed to be really happy when any of them, Trixie or Buddy or William himself, got to do, or have, something special.
Take for instance, just a few days ago, when the Gold Beach News did a story about the extra-large first-grade class, and Trixie got to have her picture in the paper. The photographer from the News had looked around the jam-packed first-grade class at Gold Beach Elementary, and then picked Trixie, out of all those kids, to come up and stand beside the blackboard and point to where her teacher had written every first grader’s name. All thirty-three of them.
Jancy had seemed to be happy about that, even when Trixie cut out the picture and kept insisting that everybody admire it, over and over again. “Don’t I look famous?” she kept saying. “People who get their picture in the paper are famous, aren’t they?” It didn’t take long for Buddy to get fed up and say he was going to look a lot famouser when he was in first grade. But Jancy went on patiently looking at the picture and agreeing that Trixie looked pretty famous.
It wasn’t just jealousy, William was pretty sure of that. So what was Jancy fretting about? Of course there were
always the Baggetts, but he’d asked her more than once if she was still worrying about them showing up again, and she’d said no. What she’d actually said was, “Not really. I mean, they can’t take us back again. I mean not legally. Legally none of us are Baggetts anymore, but …” She’d shrugged and sighed and stopped talking. William got the picture. You could get your name changed, and move a hundred miles away, but that didn’t mean you could get the Baggetts out of your bloodstream, not to mention your nightmares. Particularly your nightmares.
William had gotten that far wondering about what ailed Jancy, when he reached the post office and got in the line of people waiting to mail or pick up packages. The line wasn’t that long, only three or four people, but the person at the head of it was a kid who was in William’s gym class at Gold Beach Junior High. A kid named Charlie something, who was at the moment grinning at William and giving him a fairly friendly “Hi.”
But after William returned the “Hi,” the other kid turned around and picked up his package and left, without stopping to say anything more, leaving William to wonder if his “Hi” had been too friendly, or something. Like maybe he wanted too much to be a different kind of person. Not necessarily the most popular kind, but just someone that everybody knew and liked.
Of course it had been a lot better starting school here in Gold Beach, where he was just another new kid, and
not “one of those good-for-nothing Baggetts.” Which was the reaction he used to get, even after he’d more or less starred in Miss Scott’s production of The Tempest. Being a Hardison in Gold Beach was a big improvement over being a Baggett in Crownfield, even a Baggett who’d done pretty well in a school play.
And then it was his turn at the counter, and the clerk asked his name and handed him a big box. A really big box, carefully wrapped in brown paper and tied with lots of string. His name and address were printed on it very neatly, and the post office stamp said Crownfield, but there wasn’t any return address. For a moment he considered opening it immediately, but then, supposing it might be something kind of personal, he wrapped his arms around it and took off, heading for the grocery store, and then on home to 971 Eleanor Street.