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Negative Space IV
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter IV

When Jason drove me home after that first memorable visit to his house, I asked him to drop me at the end of the public road abutting onto the dirt road that runs through the farm. He looked at me strangely but complied without protest. It wasn't until we'd gone out several times that he insisted on driving me all the way home and accompanying me into my house. He was sorry once he did. My parents are never impolite, but they are frequently unfriendly to strangers. Although they knew of Jason, he was a stranger. It didn't help that my father disapproved of Amanda's views and of her being a self-supporting, divorced woman with liberal views or that my mother really wanted me to marry Mike McLaren and saw my relationship with Jason as an impediment to the fulfillment of her fantasy.
Jason took it personally. How could he not take it personally? I explained their behavior to him as best I could, and he seemed to understand, but his feelings were still hurt. He never said a rude word to my parents or to me about them though. Maybe it would have been better if he had. I don't know. Their coldness threatened to drive a wedge between us, which is why I turned to Anita Carswell for advice. I'd hoped she'd talk to Jason and explain my parents' behavior to him in a way that he could take in without feeling hurt, but she didn't. She just told me that Jason might not like the way my parents treated him, but if I stood up to them on his behalf, he'd not only not hold their treatment of him against me, but it would raise me in his estimation and win me an even stronger place in his affection. Or something like that. I didn't stand up to them for him though. How could I? I thought it was pretty brave of me to keep seeing him when I knew they didn't want me to.
Once Jason left for Ann Arbor, my mother upped the pressure on me to see Mike McLaren more often. My father didn't care. He just wanted me to get more hours working at the bank and the drugstore now that I didn't have school to distract me.
I would have been grateful to him for not pressuring me into dating anyone I didn't want to date, had he not been so opposed to my taking a course at the community college. He blamed my wanting to do that on Jason, insisting that I had gotten fancy ideas from him about what I should do with my life.
"Let him get his useless degree," my father growled. "I want you to be able to support yourself until the right man comes along."
I knew better than to argue or to tell him that I knew very well that he was less interested in my supporting myself than in my helping out with payments on the new backhoe he'd bought. So I pleaded instead, telling him that if I could get a bit more education, I'd be able to earn better and be more of a help in the long run. He wasn't convinced, but I signed up for the psychology course anyway. He grumbled at my having to pay for it, but since I had gotten more hours at the drugstore, he didn't complain as much as I'm sure he would have if my paying tuition had actually reduced the amount of money I turned over to him from every paycheck.
Between work and studying for my classes, I didn't have time for much of a social life. But I did manage to stay in touch with Amanda, Jason's mother, after he left. At first I think dropping in to see her, look at her drawings, and show her mine was a way of staying close to Jason. Soon, however, I realized how much I enjoyed my contact with her in its own right. It became something independent of my relationship with him. She usually had good things to say about my drawing and about art in general. Sometimes she'd tell me what Jason had told her on the phone or by email or letter, and I did the same. Jason wrote me a letter every week and phoned me when the spirit moved him. When he first went away, he phoned a lot, but the calls became less frequent over time. That was to be expected, I guess, but I missed hearing his voice. Amanda's accounts of his adventures and misadventures compensated somewhat for the increasing infrequency of his calls, but I was under no illusion that I saw her just to hear about him. My enjoyment of her kept me visiting whenever I got the chance.
"You know," she said to me late one rainy Saturday afternoon as we drank that disgusting Earl Grey tea she was so fond of, "I'd never missed having a daughter until you showed up. Jason was always more than enough for me to mother. But lately I've been thinking it was sad that I never had a daughter. Jason would probably have been happier with a sibling, and I think I'd have benefited from having another female in my life besides my mother."
I was touched but didn't want to show it. "Well," I replied airily, "if you'd had another child, it might have ended up as another boy. And then what would you have done?"
Amanda laughed at me. "I guess that what I'd have done was raise two sons instead of one."
I shook my head. "I don't think Jason would have liked having a brother," I said, not sure why I thought that but certain I was right. "He might not have minded a sister though."
She nodded. "Yes, I agree. It hasn't always been easy for him as the only child, but a brother wouldn't have changed that."
I suppose I was surprised to hear someone say that she'd missed having a daughter. In my family, being the only girl was a lot like being the only drain on the family's resources. I never had the feeling that my parents wouldn't rather have had three sons.
I knew that Amanda had added the remark about how Jason would have liked to have a sister because she didn't want to dwell on her own loneliness. With Jason gone, the only family member she had nearby was her mother. I was sad to see how she cringed every time Lore Harnisch, which is what her mother insisted on being called, showed up at her house when I was there. The old woman insisted on being rude, and I think she did it just to bother Amanda, for she knew very well that I found her rudeness laughable. She said as much.
"I think you're laughing at me, girl!" she'd barked once when I couldn't keep a straight face at one of her more outrageous remarks.
I didn't apologize. Amanda just whispered, "Mother, please!"
"Don't say please to me, Amanda. I know perfectly well when I'm being mocked."
"You're not being mocked, mother," Amanda protested feebly.
I said nothing, and the old woman glared at me before turning on her heel and stomping out.
"Why do old people have to be so difficult?" Amanda asked me as soon as she'd made us a pot of tea to restore our equanimity, or so she said.
"They aren't all difficult. Miss Carswell is a bit intimidating, but she's not difficult," I observed.
"She's not difficult," Amanda agreed. Then she added, "She's downright terrifying."
I was surprised at Amanda's reaction since Jason was so fond of Miss Carswell.
"You look bewildered," Amanda observed after a few seconds of silence.
"Well, I guess I am. It's hard for me to reconcile Jason's relationship with Miss Carswell and your attitude. I'm afraid I don't understand."
Amanda grimaced. "I'm not sure Jason would be so fond of the old…woman, if it weren't for that fountain pen his grandfather gave him. But you know that story." She shook her head. "Neither of us is very forceful. We leave that to my mother. Miss Carswell is even more formidable than my mother, and that's saying something."
I shook my head. "I agree that Miss Carswell is formidable, but she's nothing like your mother, at least as far I can see. I've never known Miss Carswell to be intentionally rude or hurtful to anyone."
Amanda sighed. "Sometimes outspokenness can be worse than rudeness. Miss Carswell has a way of telling people what they really don't want to hear."
I had to agree with that comment about Miss Carswell, but I just didn't see how that was worse than rudeness, and I said so. Amanda reflected for a few minutes as I washed our mugs and put the tea canister away. When I was returned to the table she had her face in her hand and was smiling at me.
"You do make me think, you know, Lisa. And not just about Miss Carswell."
I smiled back at her. "I know she has said things I didn't want to hear," I said. "But I've never known her to do it out of meanness or spite or even out of condescension because she thought she knew better."
"It's her certainty," Amanda announced, "that way she has of doing and saying whatever she has a mind to with giving a damn what people will think of her. She's all alone out there in her old house, acting as if she's queen of the world instead of an old woman who could end up unable to take care of herself and totally dependent on others any day now. That's when we'll see how sure of herself and independent she really is!" Amanda shuddered. "I hate it when women seem invulnerable. It's so…"
She shrugged and didn't finish her statement, but her tone had taken on a edge that alarmed me. It occurred to me that her enmity towards Miss Carswell ran deep. I wasn't sure I wanted to know where it came from or how deep it ran, but at the same time I couldn't really agree with her. Maybe Miss Carswell didn't care what people thought of her, but she certainly did care about people's feelings, and to me that was much more important. I wasn't sure I wanted to get into an argument with Amanda about her though, so I just pulled out a couple of drawings I'd done and we started to talk about the uses and misuses of light and shadow.


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