Gauntlet

Afternoon Tea

Her week went like this. 

Monday

Monday she met with Mrs. Robinson. The elderly woman’s hip was doing poorly and she thanked Clauthia for her bundle of willow bark by telling her to help herself to more of the peach conserves. They talked of the weather, and the Smythe’s new baby, and how the Railroad Commission was paying double for soft metal to help repair the Ox, oh, and Janine Ambrose’s garden was looking a bit untidy, and she’d had the worst toothache on Thursday so she’d brewed up a new tonic, would she like to take some? 

Tuesday

On Tuesday she followed the mariner’s march to Mr. Johanssen’s fishing shack. The spry fellow was in the middle of gutting his catch but he washed his hands and offered her a sip of hooch and they leaned against the pier and talked about the weather, and how the post was a bit late this week, and apparently there was some gossip about fires being seen in the woods at night, and his mother was feeling a bit poorly but it was likely just something she ‘et. Oh and...

“Saw a bit o’ plastic that reminded me of him yesterday - caught in my net it was.”

She stopped breathing for a minute as he fished a bit of flashy scrap from his bag.

“I was saying to Charity that your husband sure did have the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. We do miss him on our Lonestar Hold’em nights.”

Her “thank you” was thick in her throat as Clauthia slipped the bit of plastic into her satchel. 

Wednesday

Wednesday was Healer’s Day. She walked to the Hallows and worked her way down the line of needy assembled. A loaf of bread here, a bit of scrap there. She emptied her pockets into their dirty and desperate hands. When her pockets were empty she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, examining wounds for infection and teeth for caries. To a select few she gave what she kept in her bag, wrapped up between layers of gauze. Ampules of medicine and tonics to dull the pain. She ignored the bit of blue flashing up from the bottom, hearing Mrs. Atrophy's chiding in her mind the way it had every day of the last three years since her world had been turned upside down. Now is the time to work, not dwell on the past. 

Thursday

Thursday she noticed one of the carts on her lane was missing.

“Is Mx. Ambrose alright?” she leaned down next to one of the ladies working the overgrown garden patch out front. “They didn’t show up to Healer’s Day this week and I wanted to check on their stitches.” 

“Oh it’s you,” the woman glanced around nervously. “I suppose they just ain’t been around much this week. Said they had some business out towards Essex.”

“Nothing serious I hope?” 

“No no. Nothing serious. ”

“Well then, have a nice day.”

Friday

Friday she checked her empty mailbox and frowned. 

She checked her other mailbox, the one that looked like a rock. There was a note from Mrs. Atrophy with the time of their meeting that evening. She twitched her black veil down over her face and strode down the hill. 

Evening fell and the Widows gathered. Some wore veils as she did, others black bands on their sleeves, while still others wore no mourning colors at all but whispered the right words as they slipped into the gathering space. 

“The post is late.” she murmured. “And Mx. Ambrose is curiously absent. Mister Lackey, get a group together and look into it.”

“Yes Miss Clauthia.” their boyish face flashed a grin in the gloom and she could hear the cracking of their knuckles as they tapped companions to aid in their hunt. 

“Now then. Who else has news?”

Saturday

Saturday the weather was good. She sat at her table near the crossroads and poured herself a cup of tea. Braves came and went, some merely to pay respects, some to offer a bit of meal or brew to take to Healer’s Day. Others leaned close and passed whispers with the cream and sugar. At each tidbit, she nodded solemnly. All news was important. All words carried their own truths - sometimes they just took a bit longer to reveal themselves. 

The noon sun rose overhead and the shouts went up from the Gauntlet. Mister Lackey strolled over to her table carrying an oversized jar under his arm. They were muddy.

“What tea do you have for me today?” she smiled at the Widower. “Or is that the ruckus I hear?”

“No, no. This is no common hooch for the masses.” Lackey placed their jar on the table. 

“Ahh, I wondered if you’d find this vintage.” She spun the clear, heavy glass, watching the contents spin slowly. 

“It was just where you’d thought it’d be.”

“And the postman?”

Lackey frowned, “I was too late for that, I’m afraid. But…” they pulled out a stack of envelopes from their bag. “I did get the mail.”

“Good boy.” Clauthia smiled, tapping one finger on the glass. “I trust Mx. Ambrose learned their lesson?”

The severed head gaped at her sightlessly. 

“Oh yes.” Mr. Lackey nodded amiably. “They sure did.”

They watched the mail-thief swirl around a moment more.

“Well, I’m off to tell the Grave Council their new tax rate for the Ambrose family.” She smoothed her skirts as she rose, tucking the pickling jar under her arm. 

“And I’m off to deliver the mail.”

Lackey tipped their hat and they parted.

Sunday

Sunday dawned warm and drizzly. Clauthia watched the delvers trudging back to their tents, hungover and poor. It had been a productive week. Tomorrow she’d visit Mrs. Robinson and thank her for the tip-off about the Ambrose’s garden. 

She sipped her tea and smiled. 


A Widows of the Lonestar Vignette by A. Garcia