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A Time To Every Purpose XX
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter XX

Needles was asleep in the back of the van. Anita picked her up gently, trying not to wake her, but Needles woke up anyway. "Where's my book?" she mumbled.
I leaned over and picked up the grimy volume. "I have it," I told her. "We're going to take you and your book over Joanna's house where your grammy and your mommy are waiting for you."
She smiled at me. "Hi Bob,' she said sleepily. "Read to me?"
I reached out and patted her head. "Maybe when you feel better, Needles."
She closed her eyes. "My name isn't Needles. It's Needles," she explained in a slightly exasperated tone. "I told you already."
"Yes, you did, Anita," I replied. She giggled. "Read to me!" she repeated insistently. But before I had a chance to reply she said, "Sleepy!" and then fell silent.
When we returned to Miranda and Ellen, mother and daughter were arguing.
"I know that's not true," Ellen was shouting. "You're just trying to mess with my mind, mother, and I won't have it. You drove daddy away, not me."
Miranda looked sad, but she answered her daughter calmly, "Neither of us drove him away, Ellen. He just couldn't deal with our life together. He wasn't strong enough."
"I don't believe you!" Ellen hissed. "This is just another trick to get me away from Kevin."
"Why don't you come with us then?" Miranda said with what I thought was admirable restraint. "I'll have Morris show you Martin's diary." She looked up as we approached but didn't seem too surprised to see Anita carrying the child.
"Is she all right?" she asked. "Do we need to get her to the doctor?"
Anita shook her head. "He'd left her in the van, but it seems to have done her no harm. Her fever is down, but she's exhausted."
"Let's take her to Morris," Miranda ordered. She began to roll her wheelchair towards my car. "You can follow in the van," she said to Ellen. "Don't bother bringing Kevin. If he sets foot in my vehicle, I'll have him arrested."
Ellen looked at her mother in disbelief and then turned on her heel and walked towards the store. When she was nearly at the door, she turned and shouted, "You can all go to hell. I'm going to stay with my husband."
"What happened with Kevin?" Miranda asked me as I took over behind her chair.
"He was packing to leave. The child was in the van. He blustered at us, well, actually at Anita, a bit, but he caved in under pressure. She often has that effect on immature men."
Miranda laughed hard. It was good to hear, especially after the interaction with Ellen that I'd witnessed. "I can well believe it. I've been known to have that effect myself, but to a lesser degree, I'm sure."
She reached back and patted my hand. "I meant to tell you how impressed I am that you and Anita are such good friends. Not many men would have the guts," she said.
It was my turn to laugh hard. "I think you overestimate me and underestimate my gender. Anita is a friend anyone would be honored to have, I said. And at that moment I meant every word.
Anita heard me, I think, but that didn't stop her from ordering me to help Miranda into the car. I did as I was told and then she handed me Needles. "You take the child while I put the wheelchair away. And put that ridiculous book on the back seat, will you? We really ought to buy her a new, clean copy. That looks like she vomited on it."
"Why not let me put the chair in and you keep the child?"
She looked at me as if I were a particularly slow math student. "I want to drive. Take the child and get into the car."
I shook my head and heard Miranda's low chuckle as I once again did as Anita ordered.
"Are you sure about leaving the van with your daughter?" I asked Miranda.
"Ellen may change her mind," she said. If she does, I want her to have a way to follow us to Morris' place."
I shook my head. "She could walk there. Ellen is a healthy enough, young woman."
"I don't think Miranda was referring merely to the physical distance," Anita explained, looking at me kindly. "This way Ellen has a reason to come back to her mother that allows her to feel good about herself."
"Huh?" I stared at Anita blankly.
"Returning the van will give her the excuse she may need," Miranda explained. "I want to leave the door open."
These women were too subtle for me, and I said so as Anita got into the driver's seat. She grinned at me and reached into her tote bag.
"I think I'd better phone and let Morris know what's happened and that we're on our way."
I noticed that she didn't call him Mr. Diamant, but I wasn't surprised.
"No answer," she said. "That concerns me."
She started the car. "I hope he's all right."

When we got to him, Morris Diamant was serving coffee to Joanna Privett. He seemed physically well enough but his expression was slightly dazed. I attributed that to the presence of the indomitable and daunting Mrs. P.
"Oh there you all are," she announced as he let us into his house. "I wondered when you'd get here. I was just telling him," she flapped her head in Morris' direction, setting her wig askew," that there was nothing to worry about. I've never seen such a man for worrying."
Morris was holding Needles who'd awakened long enough to say, "Ghost room?" and then fallen back asleep.
"Excuse me while I put the child to bed," he said softly.
"Where are Ellen and Kevin?" Mrs. P. asked cheerfully. "I'd have expected them to come with you before leaving for California."
Anita and I exchanged glances, but Joanna didn't seem to notice that anything was amiss.
"I think a nice, romantic trip to the west coast is just what those two need," she continued. "They spend too much time apart."
Morris returned to the room and went straight to Miranda. "She is comfortable now," he said. "But she asked for her book."
"It's in the car," Miranda replied. "And it's in very bad condition. I don't really know…"
"She shall have a new copy of the book as soon as I get to a bookstore," Anita announced. Morris looked at her with a fond, but slightly condescending smile.
"She won't be happy with a new copy. Is there any way to rescue the old copy?"
Anita sniffed disdainfully, but I could tell by her facial expression that she knew he was right.
"I suppose it could be cleaned, but it's really quite disgusting."
Morris' smile grew less condescending. "Perhaps she and I could make a new cover and binding for it. I have some experience with binding books, and from what this lady said," he looked over at Joanna Privett who was eating her third pastry since our arrival, "someone will have to look after the child in the absence of her parents."
Miranda, who'd moved from her wheelchair to an armchair under her own power, cleared her throat. "I thought of taking her in, Morris," she said calmly. "I'm not so ill that I can't look after her."
Morris shook his head. "You can barely look after yourself on your bad days, Miranda," he said gently. "A child is a lot of work."
"I'm her grandmother," Miranda said, as if we didn't already know.
Morris went over and took her hand. "Perhaps the two of us together can look after her, my dear."
"Well, well, well," Joanna Privett interjected. "Isn't that sweet? Ellen always said that her was sweet on her mother."
"Do be quiet," I said, "or better yet, why don't you go home?"
Mrs. P. sniffed disdainfully. "Why are you always telling me what to do?" she demanded. "You don't even live here."
"Well, neither do you," I replied. "Your husband is home alone turning into a vegetable in front of the TV set. Why don't you go inspire him with your presence instead of torturing us?"
"Ellen told me to meet her here, and I'm staying here until she shows up. She borrowed five hundred dollars from me and told me she'd return it today. I brought her a bunch of stuff she'd left at my place that she asked for." Mrs. P. pointed at a large, very old-fashioned suitcase that she had at her feet.
"That's fine," Anita said with a distracted expression. "Have I returned your cellular phone to you, Joanna?"
I looked at her blankly, wondering if she'd lost her memory or was up to something. She'd just tried to reach Morris using that very phone on the short drive over here.
"I'm not sure, dear," Mrs. P. replied. "I remember that you were going to leave it with me when you stopped off yesterday, but I don't know for sure if you did or not." She searched her pockets and the bright turquoise tote bag she had on the floor next to the old-fashioned suitcase. "It doesn't seem to be here. I hope you haven't lost…." She stopped in mid-utterance. "Wait a minute! When I went by old Mrs. Clegg's place to pick up the pens, Bob here said you still had it. Have I seen you since then? I get so muddled about time."
"No, I think I've probably got it," Anita said, "but I want to make sure I give it to you before we leave. It's out in the car, I think. Why don't you come help me look?"
Anita hoisted her tote bag onto her shoulder, and the two of them walked amiably out the door, leaving Morris Diamant staring in bewilderment after them. He cleared his throat and turned to me.
"Is Anita all right?" he asked. "She didn't strike me as vague or absent-minded before."
I smiled a little condescendingly at him. "She knows perfectly well where the phone is, and so do I. That's why she picked up that tote bag. After she and Joanna search the car thoroughly, leaving you and Miranda time to complete your conversation in peace, she will recall where she left the phone and send Joanna on her way with it, ridding us of unwanted company without being as stupidly insulting as I just was."
Miranda grinned broadly at me, and I was quite proud of myself. Those women were not the only ones who understood subtlety.
"It seems to me," I continued, "that the two of you need some time alone to talk over future plans. I need to phone my wife, so if you, Mr. Diamant…"
"Please, Morris," he insisted.
"Thank you, Morris. If you could direct me to a phone, I'd be very grateful. I will, of course, place the call on my credit card."
He waved his hand in dismissal. "Don't bother with the credit card. Your wife is not in Australia." He chuckled faintly at his own joke, and the invited me to follow him. I did, and he led me down the short hall into a small room with a desk and a work table covered with fountain pens in trays. For a moment I was so distracted by the pen display that I overlooked the phone.
Morris cleared his throat. "Please," he said, indicating the phone with a brief wave of his hand. It was an old black phone with a rotary dial, of all things. It did not seem the least bit anachronistic in the company of all those pens and of Morris himself. I settled myself at the desk to phone Betsy, and Morris left, softly closing the door behind himself.


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