Kage Baker … was given to many peculiar habits and opinions, which still make my life interesting; and not necessarily in a good way. She was genuinely fond of her agent, Linn Prentis; despite Linn taking Kage less and less seriously as time went on. Kage knew that errors were creeping into Linn’s bookkeeping, and that she had estranged most of the big publishing houses to such an extent that Linn was not permitted into their offices.
Kage had accompanied Linn to business lunches where Linn ignored Kage and instead spent her time promoting new clients. She had removed some manuscripts from Linn’s control in order to make sure they got published at all – and still forwarded the agent’s fee dutifully on to Linn. She was always grateful to Linn for the extraordinary way in which Linn had championed Kage’s work at the very beginning – and it was extraordinary, and it was good of Kage stay beholding to Linn for that good start.
But it made me furious, to see how poorly Kage was treated by Linn in her last couple of years. I don’t think Linn quite realized what she was doing to Kage, or how patient Kage was being about it. Royalty and advance checks were held long past the dates they should have been paid to Kage – sometimes the checks she received were actually for other authors, and more delay was involved in returning them and getting the right ones. Linn missed dates and appointments, even lost a couple of of stories. Still, Kage made me promise to stay with Linn as the agent for her work.
I did, too. I was also grateful to Linn for Kage’s start as a published author, even if I was unhappy with how things finally ended. But things got stranger, and Linn got more careless, after Kage died. She failed to forward checks. She stopped sending me 1099’s at tax time. I severed our relationship when I discovered that Linn was describing herself as Kage’s executrix: which she was not. Linn sent me an angry letter saying she knew I had never liked her (That wasn’t true. But I liked Kage better.) and failed to send me even more tax papers or checks.
Last July, I turned 65. One of the government inquiries I have received in the run-up to Social Security has asked me to prove that a certain $5,000 advance for Nell Gwynne II had been paid to Kage’s estate. I couldn’t find any such proof, and my requests for proof from Linn had largely been ignored. Her estate, she having passed away in the interim, said it could not provide any proof one way or the other and would the IRS be content with being told the records were not accessible?
Well, no. The IRS is not a markedly trusting organization. I need proof one way or the other, and it has been gently implied that my SSI benefits just might be in jeopardy; which pretty much uses up any patience I’ve regrown. I have explained this in detail to the surviving office help – who apparently have no idea who Linn’s executor even is – and am assured that some answer will be forthcoming soon.
It’s tiring. And depressing. And I’m cranky, and want to concentrate on writing, and have been repeatedly thwarted in this simple desire. My mind is a squirrel cage and all the squirrels are on meth …
Nonetheless, I have advanced the plot of the Misses Take and Treat a little bit. I hope, Dear Readers, that you enjoy it. We pick up where our heroine has been accepted under false pretenses as a breeding postulant …
One might expect such a melodramatic welcome to lead to some deep, emotional scene. However, ghouls are practical people once the necessary rituals have been met. I didn’t have to take a deadly oath or anything of that sort: my obvious antecedents sort of grandmothered me in. I was a legacy, like a Job’s Daughter or a Young Republican.
Actually, the Hanim and Petek kindly sat me down and served me tea and cookies. Like their bread, the ghouls make marvellous cookies – we had sugar cookies and almond bars, and they were wonderful. The tea was an old-fashioned black tea, flavoured with jasmine. I nearly cried again at the familiar tastes.
After some gentle questioning as to what my actual, pertinent skills might be, I was assigned to shadow Petek with the bee hives. That was great with me; it meant I would be free to wander the gardens even when I wasn’t working; I like working with the bees, and anyone with access to honey was in a good position to make friends with little girls.
When Hanim Mugae dismissed us, Petek gave me a brief tour of the convent grounds. As I expected, it was a huge, rambling garden, where potting stands, fountains, hose bibs and benches appeared at random amid the trees and flower beds. Between the trees were a number of small cottages, all hand made and heavily customized by their inhabitants. Some were so old and so snuggled into the garden that they were practically just doors and windows in walls of flowering vines. One was built right into the side of a gentle swelling berm along one edge of the orchard.
There were only three large buildings – a barn for processing produce and honey, a meeting house attached to the Hanim’s large cottage, and the refectory. That last was a high, bright hall with skylights in the roof, and small tables set up in casual groups; a low dais at one side held what was clearly the High Table, where the convent elders could dine together. The chairs there were tall and ornate and heavily cushioned.
Petek finally led me back to that one hobbit-style cottage beside the orchard. There were a lot more skeps here, on triangular stands that made them look like woven pyramids. Bees were loud in the blossoming trees, and in the beds of flowers and herbs.
“I thought you would like this room,” said Petek shyly. She opened the little front door and led me inside. “It’s very small, but very private. Your closest neighbors will be the bees.”
That cottage was straight out of a faerie story. It was all one deep room, with a half loft at the back for sleeping. There were low windows in all the front walls, and the back wall was made of clean grey stone framing a fireplace, There was a table and two chairs, and a tiny steep stair at one side of the room, leading to the loft. The floor was wood, with softly faded rugs scattered about; a tiny glass-fronted hutch showed tea things and plates and bowls.
“Most meals are taken in company, of course,” Petek said. “But you can make tea, and cook a little in here if you like. If you’re used to an open fire?”
“Well, yes, but …” I waved my hands around, trying to find words. “I’ve lived rough before – but this isn’t living rough! This is so beautiful, Petek! Are you sure I can stay here?”
To my amazement, Petek gave me a long hug. Standing back from me, she smiled and said, “Well, of course! You need a safe place, Neith, and we really do welcome you. This little place is only big enough for one, really. And traditionally, the bee keeper or her worker live here. My cottage is on the other side of the orchard, and I share it with my birth-sister. So this is the perfect place for you.
“Here, this is the toilet – “ she opened a door under the stairs to reveal a composting toilet in a neatly painted little cell. My mouth fell open, and Petek laughed out loud. “We just had these put in a few years ago, and they may be the most popular modern convenience around here.”
“I can believe that,” I said sincerely. There’s nothing like hunting in wilderness areas and state parks to make you cherish competent plumbing …
“And here – “ she threw open another door, beside the fireplace “ – is an indoor pump!”
It was. It was a shiny little RV hand pump, mounted over a tiny enameled tin sink in a wooden stand. There was even a wee draining shelf to one side.
“All the cells are plumbed in to our well and cistern,” said Petek, with obvious pride. She deserved to be proud – this was a better set-up than I had seen in most camp grounds. “And we do all the plumbing ourselves, of course. We haven’t had a clog or a back up even in the kitchens for almost a year.”
“That’s amazing,” I agreed. I was sincere, too.
“Well, you must be tired, Neith,” Petek said. She was practically glowing with pride. “ Especially after walking up from Highway 1. That’s a dreadful hike, even if you stick to the road. Why don’t you rest for the rest of the morning? I’ll come fetch you when we gather for lunch, and then afterwards we can take a closer look at the honey room.”
I thanked her effusively as she let herself out. She didn’t offer me a key, and I didn’t expect one – convent cells, even when they were hobbit holes in a fruit orchard, were never locked. It didn’t bother me. I was carrying nothing that would give me away, not even a cell phone. But the very first thing I did, as soon as the latch clipped behind her, was dash in to try the toilet. And there was a generous net bag of lavender blossoms hanging on the back of the door, for a very effective room deodorizer. What a luxury!
The next thing I tried was the little pump, with a glass from the hutch. The pump worked wonderfully. A few back-and-forths on the shiny aluminum handle, and a stream of water spewed forth. It was beautifully cold, too, from its underground origins, and tasted of clean stone and mist. I got a second glassful, and retreated to one of the two padded armchairs.
So, here I was, gathered eagerly to the bosom of a sisterhood that certainly had designs on my mixed and unique bloodline. I found I didn’t mind. It had worried me quite a bit, wondering if my story would be believed, but now that I was apparently accepted – it made me feel bad about myself. It wasn’t a long reach, for me to regard these ghouls as nice people. I had more good experience than bad with their kind, even after I grew up and learned the whole story of my own begetting. Not even my paternal kinswomen had offered me harm.
As for these ladies: they were making me so comfortable, I was beginning to feel guilty. If only my errand had been anything less serious than a kidnapped child …