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Ella Minnow Pea, Page 2

Mark Dunn

  If not, God help us all.

  With love,

  Your cousin Tassie

  PS. Neither I nor Mother will be able to attend your party on the 7th. Nollop “Im”-Pass is mired again from last week’s heavy rains, and the Littoral Loop has yet to be reopened following the early summer inundata. (I would avoid the Littoral Loop, in any event, as it is, while scenic, the longest distance between two points known to man.) And please understand my unwillingness to tresspass upon the Pony Expresspath; the sprinting Pony brother-couriers are Mercury-swift these days, and I would prefer that my obituary not read, “She was ingloriously run over by a fleet-footed fourteen-year-old.” If I am to have any choice in the matter, I would choose a less pedestrian death, thank-you-very-much.

  PPS. You will notice that with the exception of the use of the letter “z” in the anserous term “vocabu-lazy,” the affectionately familiar “Cuz,” and the mischievously manufactured “bezide,” the letter is employed nowhere else in this missive. My point stands on principle: to choose to use the letter if I so wish it, or to choose not to; such is my right – a right now to be eradicated by stroke of High Council pen. And with that, I cloze.

  [Upon the Minnow Pea kitchen table]


  Sunday, August 6

  Dear Daughter Ella,

  I am going to the hobby-shop to pick up more ceramic mix for my miniatures. I should be home in an hour or two. I have decided to narrow my latest venture from the fashioning of dissimilar vessels (the familiar tiny urns, pitchers, and amphoras which have sold so well at our recent town craft bazaars) to the exclusive molding of diminutive moonshine jugs. You might remember my telling you and your mother that Mr. McHenry of Charlotte, North Carolina, has promised to buy all the jugs I make for his American Doll House Supply Company. (And with the decline in available carpentry work around the island you know how much we can use this money.)

  You may remind your mother should she return before I do that while I am out I will pick up mixed nuts and assorted beverages for tomorrow night’s party. I will also bring something good for us to eat for dinner this evening.

  It will not be fish.

  I have apparently grown just as tired of the piscivorous diet as have you and she. Praise God for the abundance of loaves and fishes during these belt-tightening times; just leave us the loaves and take away all them fishes!

  With love from your father,



  Monday, August 7

  Dear Cousin Tassie:

  I write this letter literally minutes from the cusp of midnight. I trust that having read it, you will put quick flame to it for it will have been received after the onset of this peculiar prohibition, and I do not wish to place you or your mother in any jeopardy whatsoever, for I understand there will be no moratorium, and no lenience shown any offender over the age of seven. (Why the cut-off here, I do not know, yet any child eight and older who speaks or writes a word containing the letter “z,” it is my understanding from the proclamation, will receive the same penalty as would an adult. Children seven and younger, however, may bizz and bazz to their heart’s content. Ah, to be a child again!)

  I wish that you could be here. It has been an odd gathering – a warm confluence of kindred souls – yet in terms of the pervasive atmosphere, conversely, even perversely funereal. I would like to have had my dear cousin at my side as we approach the fateful stroke-and-chime. Reluctantly do we bid farewell to Mistress Z, embracing her warmly, heartily, as if determined never to let her leave our side. In spirit-most-festive do we attempt with all our intellectual muscle to name as many words as we are able from the pool of those we will soon be forbidden to use. Such a very long list we have produced – a list which will soon and sadly be curling black in the Pop-crafted salad-ceramic enlisted for its incineration.

  My Uncle Zachary will henceforth go by his middle name, Isaac. His jocular carpenter-mates Buzz and Zeke ask that they now be called, respectively, Lil’ Tristan and Prince-Valiant-the-Comely. (Zeke is actually applying for a legal name change!)

  No longer may we speak of the topaz sea which laps our breeze-kissed shores. Nor ever again describe azure-tinted horizons sheered by the violent blazes of our brilliant island sunrises.

  Hundreds of words await ostracism from our functional vocabularies: waltz and fizz and squeeze and booze and frozen pizza pie, frizzy and fuzzy and dizzy and duzzy, the visualization of emphyzeema-zapped Tarzans, wheezing and sneezing, holding glazed and anodized bazookas, seized by all the bizarrities of this zany zone we call home. Dazed or zombified citizens who recognize hazardous organizations of zealots in their hazy midst, too late – too late to size down. Immobilized we iz. Minimalized. Paralyzed. Zip. Zap. ZZZZZZZZZ.



  Did I say crazy?

  The books have all disappeared. You were right about the books. We will have to write new ones now. But what will we say? Without the whizz that waz.

  For we cannot even write of its history. Because to write of it, is to write it. And as of midnight, it becomes ineffable.

  As of five seconds from now.

  As of now.

  The clock chimes twelve.


  I have such a ghastly headache. I believe I’ll go lie down now.


  Your cousin Ella





  The quick brown fox jumps over the la*y dog


  Tuesday, August 8

  Dear Ella,

  I received your letter. I read it and destroyed it. I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you. As your family’s parties go, I’m sure it was a memorable one, although the hovering pall must have sent folks home a little earlier than usual.

  They shut the library down today. By day’s end workmen had it totally boarded up. I spent much of the afternoon helping Rachalle box up items to transfer to the supply cabinets of Mother’s school. Her second graders wore such heart-tugging looks of confusion when the principal confiscated all of the text books. Mother spent much of the school day in halt and stammer lest she speak the proscribed letter and find herself brought up on charges. It makes teaching so difficult, she tells me – having to spell out each word in her head before speaking it, to prevent accidental usage, while attempting to deliver a lesson without benefit of any textbook whatsoever! (Mother is having only a slightly better time of it than Mrs. Moseley who, having fallen victim to chronic aposiopesis in the morning, spent the bulk of the afternoon seated in silent defeat behind her desk, while her restless third graders improvised games of catch with a variety of show-and-tell items.)

  Mother said her own pupils wanted desperately to talk about what had just occurred.

  Many are forbidden by their parents to discuss the matter at home, so great is the fear of where such discussion may lead. She said that she took the coward’s way out and would not permit discussion in her classroom either. It is gone, she tells the children. They must think no more of it. We must all learn to accept its departure.

  “And yet, deep inside,” she tells me, “I am angry and rebellious.” “In my head,” she tells me, “I am reciting what I recall of my niece’s last letter, allowing the illegal words to baste and crisp. I cook the words, serve them up, devour them greedily.

  In the sanctuary of my thoughts, I am a fearless renegade. Yet in the company of the children I cringe and cower in a most depreciating way.”

  Mother looks at me with a face betraying all the pain she feels inside, and concludes with a whisper, “I have only shame for myself, Tassie – because of what this has turned me into, here, even in this early hour of this most senseless prohibition.”

  Perhaps in time, Ella, the words we have lost will fade, and we will all stop summoning them by habit, only to stamp the
m out like unwanted toadstools when they appear. Perhaps they will eventually disappear altogether, and the accompanying halts and stammers as well: those troublesome, maddening pauses that at present invade and punctuate through caesura all manner of discourse. Trying so desperately we all are, to be ever so careful.

  It really stinks.

  Even on this second day violations are mounting. Here in this tiny village, Ella, seventeen of my neighbors have already been charged with first offense. Two, in sad fact, have reached the grave level of second offense. Mr. Gregory who lives just down the lane – three milk cows he has, hardly of sufficient number to earn the title of dairy farmer. Yet he treasures the appellation, and what milk he produces is sweet and creamy. Dairy farmer and beekeeper. Owner of the largest apiary, if I am not mistaken, on the island. It is the bees that have gotten poor Mr. Gregory into trouble. For how does one describe such creatures without use of a certain outlawed letter as a matter of course? Twice, the good man has slipped up. As I write this he sits in headstock on the village commons. No one jeers, by the way. We come only to offer condolences. And to bring him drink – sweet milk from one of his own Guernseys. The day is hot, and there is no shade where he is shackled. I understand his hives will soon be destroyed, his livelihood ripped from him. For the bees speak the offending letter as their wont. They sing it into the hills, our ears ringing with its scissoresonance. Such a perturbulent distraction it is to a community attempting to follow edict with obeisance!

  The other individual charged with second offense is Master William Creevy, about our age – whom Mother taught a few years previous – a riotous, rule-flouting young man for as long as I have known him. (This fact, however, never prevented me from exercising a certain youthful fondness for him; his countenance, dear Ellakins, is no strain upon young female eyes!) Willy, as it happens, does not believe in obeying laws written by madmen. And while many of us applaud his independent spirit, he is, nonetheless, one slip-word away from banishment.

  I wonder what that word will be. Whatever he chooses (if choice it be), you will not see it scribbled by me within some future missive to my dear cousin, for while I share Master Creevy’s contempt for the island authorities, I do not at present own his dangerous desire for insurrection.

  A point made during a visit to the Village yesterday by Council Member Harton Mangrove for purpose of conform and clarification: we may not, as an alternative, use illegal words with asterisks conveniently replacing the letter of the alphabet in question. Use of such asterisk will carry the same penalty as would use of the prohibited letter itself, for one is blatant stand-in for the other with meaning wholly transparent.

  Which is why you find no asterisks in this letter to you.

  Pray for dear Willy Creevy. He is a mischievous, troublesome lad but undeserving of expulsion for all his mischief and trouble. Did I mention he chose flogging? A brave boy he is. But I rather suspect he’s sacrificing the skin of his youthful back for naught. For the present, it is easier for us to turn away. Our repulsion, you see, will not spur us to revolt until this plague moves much closer to home.

  I love you, dearest Cousin, and do so miss you. Never stop writing.




  Friday, August 11

  Dear Tassie,

  Today The Tribune published the names of fifty-eight of the sixty men, women, and children charged this week with first offense. (Two names were unpublishable due to the presence of a particular letter within.) All were speakers of banned words – words overheard upon the lanes, in schoolyards and church pews, and on the common greens. Neighbor turning in neighbor, perpetuating old grudges and grievances with this new weapon unleashed upon us by the High Island Council. The paper reported thirteen additional names of those charged with second offense. Unlike your brave Master Creevy, all have chosen headstock in lieu of the lash. Thankfully, no one has yet to receive the dreaded charge of third and final offense. At least one of the thirteen has taken the precautionary measure of taping his mouth securely shut.

  Another among their number, the very publisher and editor of our Island Tribune, Asquith Kleeman, is contemplating a suspension of the publication of his newspaper rather than risk a final charge. For the time being he has asked that all staff members tape down a certain key on their typewriters to avoid its accidental usage. The Kleeman family, as you may know, has resided on this island for multiple generations; they were, in fact, one of the first families to settle here. Banishment for them would be both an unfortunate and landish tragedy. Just as unfortunate, though, would be the loss of our daily rag – our solitary news source (now that radio news broadcasts have been suspended).

  Yesterday Mum and Pop took a long dusktide stroll along Nevin Beach. I followed not too far behind. Each of us hoped to find the peace and tranquility that usually rewards us on such quiet, contemplative walks. Yet it was not to be. The sun-kissed paradise we have cherished for all our lives has been marred by this most wretched turn of events. During such walks my parents exercise far less care in how they speak to one another than they do in conversation with others. Perhaps they should be more cautious, lest possible eavesdroppers hiding in the dune grasses report them. But for the time being they take their chances. And while they converse in soft, lovers’ tones, I recite my favorite poetry with little attention to use of the forbidden letter. In the disquieting quiet, we wonder and worry, yet try to carry on some semblance of normal life. You were right about the fallout from this most absurd law. Not only does it cripple communication between islanders, it builds rock walls between hearts. As Mum holds tightly to Pop I watch them trying to feel what once came so soft and easy. Yet the growing fear coils about us in such a way that affection becomes like bud-never-bloom. The sweet scent is there – the innate desire to blossom, but the cold wind locks the bud in place.

  All because of this tiny Nollop-cursed letter. I have yet to fully understand its awesome power. But I am fast learning.

  Your loving cousin,


  [Upon the Minnow Pea Kitchen Table]


  Tuesday, August 15

  Dear Goodwife Gwenette,

  You are in the tub. It isn’t my wish to disturb you. I am going to town center. Prince-Valiant-the-Comely says the Taylor Construction Company is a few carpenters short this week due to the grippe. I want to check with Taylor to see if he might need me tomorrow.

  I stood outside the door to the bathroom inhaling deeply the intoxicating scent of your bath beads. I would have barged right in as I used to in the old days, but you seemed all too content enjoying your “privy time.” I identified all three of the tunes you were humming. They took me back a few years!

  I love you.

  I’ll be home later in the afternoon. Please tell Ella that the cocktail tomatoes in the back garden require immediate harvesting; the crows are already having themselves a fine tomato salad.


  [Upon the Minnow Pea Kitchen Table]


  Tuesday, August 15

  Dear Goodhusband Amos,

  I write this on the chance that I may still be gone when you return. I will be at the market buying cornish game hens for dinner tonight. I know how much you and Ella like them.

  You think you are so smart! Now just whom do you think you’re fooling? In all the years we’ve been married you have not forgotten a single anniversary, and I do not think you intend to start with this one. I am thus quite aware, sir, that you are not in any form, shape, or manner having a work-related conversation with Anselm Taylor (who knows to call on you if he needs you) but are, instead, even as I write this, selecting for me some appropriately commemorative gift which you have absolutely no business buying, given the precariousness of our present financial situation.

  You are too, too much, Amos Minnow Pea!

  With love,

  Your wife of twenty-three years to the day, Gwenette Minnow Pea

PS. Perhaps if I chose to take another bath later this evening (while our dear daughter is working her evening shift at the launderette), you might reconsider your earlier decision about “barging right in.” (Tee hee.)


  Thursday, August 17


  Young Master Creevy was sent away today. When the flogging had ended, he allegedly (I was not there.) raised his head and let spew forth a long and repetitive illicit-letter-peppered tirade against the L.E.B. officers who had administered his punishment. He was not even granted time to pack a suitcase. I will hear more of his story when his mother addresses a meeting of the Parents and Teachers Association at the Village school tomorrow night. Within an hour of this act of civil disobedience, Master Creevy was tossed upon an out-bound commercial trawler, with the summary warning that to return to Nollop would mean immediate execution.

  Dear Ella, what have those fools on the Council wrought? The meeting tomorrow will allow us to vent our anger and frustration. I truly look forward to it.

  Your cousin,



  Friday, August 18

  Dear Tassie,

  I’m eager to know how the meeting went. I wish we could speak on the phone – that phone service between town and village were reinstated; the Council continues to refer to the outage as a temporary “hurricane-related disruption” (the hurricane in question having occurred thirteen months ago).

  I don’t believe them. I think it represents, instead, the persistent degeneration of all means by which this island may some day enter the Twentieth Century, let alone the Twenty-first. Until I can procure cups and a massive coil of string, these letters that pass between us will comprise our sole means of communication, and we should try to make the best of them. Please write as soon (and as often) as you are able.