Who am I kidding.
I couldn’t explain anyone else’s behaviour and certainly wouldn’t know where to begin letting you in to the workings of my own imagination. Admitting that up front, however, isn’t going to stop me from trying. Here’s what’s going on in my head as Agincourt’s newest citizen takes form.
Figures of speech and word games fascinate me; indeed, they occupy a lot of my time (riding in elevators; checking out at Cash Wise; sleepless nights at home). Palindromes were a topic in one of my classes recently, so I thought someone with a palindromic name ought to live in Agincourt. Within a few minutes Neil Klien had become one of its ever-growing cast of characters. Klien needed an occupation, perhaps something concerned with beginnings and ends, since palindromes are the same from either direction. Why not a grave digger? Every town had one, though these days graves are backhoed with very little ceremony; I saw some of that inelegance at Marlys Anderson’s funeral last week. Big yellow tractors with a come-to-me bucket don’t belong on public display at a grave yard. The solemnity can’t compete.
Old-time grave digging must have been a fairly solitary activity. Very particular, some might even say peculiar, personality types were drawn to it as a livelihood. So Klien shouldn’t be married and, for goodness sakes, he shouldn’t have children to be abused by their schoolyard classmates with sing-songy jabs about a parent’s work. He needed to be a singularity. A thoughtful man of few words. Someone formed from tragedy and seeking answers, as we all do, to why bad things mangle the innocent and the good.
Klien would be born into adversity, his mother an inmate at the local bordello Mrs. Miller’s Enterprise. Some of Belle Miller’s girls got pregnant; accident’s happen, but no child should be conceived without intention. So if Sissy Beddowes herbal remedies couldn’t help, there was Maud Adams’ underground adoption agency. These three women had already formed a sort of “trinity” in the emerging history of the town. “Arrangements” were made for the unnamed infant to be placed with the Kliens, a childless middle-aged couple who farmed the other side of Fahnstock. They named him Neil, a homonym hinting at the prayers they’d offered to have a child.
But Neil was born on a Wednesday, and as we all know Wednesday’s child is full of woe.
The Kliens were good parents, providing what they could from meager resources. When the one-room Fahnstock school closed, Neil came to Agincourt elementary and found that his reputation had already arrived: the circumstances of his birth spread rapidly from the callous gossip of adults through the cruel agency of children.
I had reluctantly let loose a life, one already scarred by the age of ten. I wonder how it will resolve itself.