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Work in Progress – June 9, 2022

Locations: Fiction Published

The Deer
By A.P. Harrison

I was on my way, 

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Living life at my usual pace 

“Places to go; things to do,”

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Singing at the top of my lungs… 

 

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There you were, 

Suddenly, right in front of me, 

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Eyes staring straight at me, 

Like a deer caught in my headlights… 

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Your words threw me off course. 

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They were hurled at me with perfect aim, 

Meant to inflict the most damage, 

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No response was allowed… 

 

You timed it perfectly. 

At the last second, you bounded to safety. 

Silently watching me with indifference, 

As I fought desperately to regain control.

 

An excerpt from “Jennie Selover, a Nineteenth Century Life”

A working title and novel by Pamela Heckert

Saturday, 2 August 1856   

Jennie dropped to the floor the instant she heard the rumbling. She crawled under a heavy oak display table, pulling Hetty with her. The trembling that followed did not surprise the fifteen-year-old. There hadn’t been a ‘quake since May, and Jennie hoped this temblor wouldn’t last as long as the severe one that had caused a lot of damage in February. 

Jennie held the younger girl tight to her body as tins fell off the shaking store shelves. Glass bottles shattered as they crashed on the dusty wood floor behind the counter of Claude Bourdin’s dry goods store. 

“Jennie, I’m frightened,” whimpered Hetty. “I wanna go home.” She coughed from the dust in the air.

Jennie curled around Hetty to shield her while the floor under them continued to shake. “Not yet, Hetty,” said Jennie. “We’ll need to wait a bit to make sure it’s stopped.”

“Zat eez right,” said Monsieur Bourdin, crouching in front of the counter to avoid objects falling behind it. “You stay where you are, Mademoiselle ‘etty. You are as safe ‘ere as anywhere at ze moment.”

When the tremor ended, Jennie released Hetty. Both girls crawled out from under the table and stood. Jennie wiped Hetty’s dirt-streaked tears with a handkerchief she took from the pocket of her plaid skirt. She shook Hetty’s skirt and apron and re-tied her bonnet ribbons before tidying herself. Jennie looked around the store, shaking her head. Monsieur Bourdin was replacing the undamaged products on the shelves; he had done this many times in his five years living in San Francisco. It was the ninth earthquake in the city this year.

“Now what was eet you two young ladies wanted to purchase today?” said the Frenchman, anxious to serve his clientele despite the shop’s disarray.

“We came to look at stuff to make Hetty a dress for our voyage,” answered Jennie. She picked her way through broken glass to get to the fabric display.

“Ah … I ‘eard zat ze Selover family was sailing again for New York City. When is eet you are going?” Mr Bourdin returned to his place behind the counter. He pulled out three bolts of cotton calico.

“September the fourth, I think. What color do you like, Hetty? Monsieur has blue and red and yellow.”

“I wanna go home! I wanna see if our folks are all right!”

Jennie bent to look the ten-year-old in the face. “Hetty, it’s over now. You’re not injured.”

“But what about the house?”

Jennie shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, my, Hetty. You’re making such a fuss over a little ‘quake. I was counting on beginning your dress today. You’ve grown so tall we can’t let the hems down any more on your old ones, and there’s but a month before we leave.”

“It don’t make no matter to me, Jennie. I just wanna see our folks! I’ll go home alone!”

“No, missie. You will not go alone.” Jennie scowled at Hetty, sighed, and tapped her foot with frustration. “Oh, all right. Monsieur Bourdin, I own we’ll be back on Monday!”

Jennie took Hetty by the hand and led her out the door of the shop. They looked up and down Montgomery Street. People still wary of an aftershock were poking their heads out of windows and doorways to survey the damage. Jennie stepped off the boardwalk into the unpaved street.

“Why are we going this way, Jennie? I wanna go home!”

“We’re going to Portsmouth Plaza to find a hack, Hetty. I’m not walking all the way home amidst all this dust. Who knows how the boards will be after the ‘quake? And goodness knows, we can’t walk in the streets.”

“I just wanna get home as fast as we can! We might hafta wait for a hack!”

“Nonsense, Hetty. We’re walking to the Plaza, and that’s that!” said the older girl.

“I hate you, Jennie Selover! I hate you!” Hetty stomped the ground and turned away from Jennie, arms folded in front of her, pouting.

“Helen Marion Arms! Go on then. Walk home to Broad Way if you’re so sure of yourself.” Jennie turned on her heel and started across the street.

Hetty turned around to face Jennie, saw that she was gone, and realized she was over a barrel. She looked across Montgomery and there was Jennie, nose in the air, skirt swishing. Hetty darted into the street and narrowly missed being run over by a large working horse pulling a waggon loaded with goods. The horse shied and reared, kicking up loose dirt, making a terrible racket. The grizzled old driver cursed the girl as he struggled to control his animal. Hetty scurried across and caught up with Jennie, unaware of the commotion the child had just caused.

 

Tags: #A.P. Harrison #Benny Blue #Pamela Heckert
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