The Wrong Side of the River
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean

Council meetings meant two things to me: boredom and a new outfit. If it was a big enough deal for Mom to drag Sage and I along, then we had to be dressed right. But, no pair of pants would be enough to make the afternoon interesting, especially when the waistband bit my skin like fire ants.
There were enough people at the meeting so that everyone saw us, which I liked, but no one I knew, which I did not like. Sage, who was young enough to think there was nothing uncool about bringing a pillow to sit on, looked quite comfortable even after an hour. Not me, though. I thought the best thing the council could do with its money would be padding the wooden benches with something less insulting to bottoms.
Sage nudged me with her pointy little elbow. “It would be awesome if the park was near our house.”
I made a fake gagging sound at her. “A park? If you’re five, maybe.”
“They’d clear out the ugly old swamp. You could hang out there with your friends and wiggle your hips at each other, or whatever it is you do.”
As if any of my friends would be seen dead in a park. With trees and . . . dirt. If it had an outdoor area for staging community theater or something, that would be different.
The crowd went all quiet when Mayor Griffin cleared his throat. He reminded me of Humpty Dumpty—egg-shaped with arms and legs so skinny, he looked like he might topple over at any minute.
“Good evening, people of Montague! As you all know, we are gathered here to vote on the location of the new park which has been made possible thanks to the generous donation from the late Mr. Grant Goodwin.” The Mayor tipped his head forward, adding an extra chin to the two he already had, and muttered quickly, “Godresthissoul.”
Everyone around us bowed their heads and whispered, “God rest his soul,” too. Except Sage, who heard it wrong and said, “Got Hester’s Soul,” instead. I don’t think anyone but me noticed, though.
“Before the council members vote,” the Mayor said, gripping the sides of the podium tight. “We will hear submissions from the floor. If you have something you would like to say on the matter, please make your way to the microphone at the front of your aisle.”
Several people jumped out of their seats and made a dash for the nearest microphone. None of them had a chance of catching Mom, though. She had taken the seat right at the end of the row and was ready for action when the moment came. I sank a little lower in my seat. No matter what else happened tonight, the one thing I knew for sure was that my mother would embarrass me.
The microphone made a squealing sound as she bent to talk into it. Mayor Griffin sighed and looked disappointed as he said, “Mary-Rose Madison has the floor.”
“Good evening, everyone. I believe that I have already made my feelings clear on this matter,” Mom said. Which was true. Mom had written letters to the editor, been to every meeting, and even made us stand outside the library one day holding placards that read: A Northside Park is the ONLY Choice!
Mom grabbed the microphone in both hands and stared at the council members. “I ask you, no, I beseech you, members of the Montague town council, to think with your heads when making this decision.” She lifted a fist into the air. “This is not just about a park, this is about the entire culture of our wonderful little town. Those of us who live Northside, the original members of this community, understand the temptation to move new facilities to the Southside, but Northside is the beating heart and soul of Montague. It is our masterpiece and this town’s face to the rest of the world. Do you think people visit our town to stare at rows of identical town houses, Southside?”
On our side of the hall, people cheered and some shouted, “No!”
On the other side, a man shouted out, “People go Northside because they like to stare at disasters!” All the Southsiders let out a roar of laughter.
“Uh oh,” I said, cringing as I waited for Mom to explode. The park wouldn’t be a problem anymore if we ended up being run out of town. Of course, I would have to make friends all over again, and start at the bottom of the social ladder instead of the top.
“Hush, hush, now! I have the floor!” Mom shouted, waving her arm.
“Thirty seconds, Mrs. Madison, and then we must move on to the next submission,” Mayor Griffin said.
My dad sat behind the council members, staring at Mom as she spoke, looking a lot like a mouse with a cat’s paw on its head. If I could have run up and hugged him, I would have.
Mom glared at him, but pulled herself together. “We all know that tourist dollars mean a great deal to this town, and it only makes sense for the park to be put in the cultural hub, the place the brings people from far and wide.” The Southsiders let out a chuckle at that, but Mom didn’t stop to argue. “It is what Mr. Goodwin would have wanted!”
Everyone bent their heads and muttered, “God rest his soul.”
“Time, Mrs. Madison,” Mayor Griffin announced.
“But I was interrupted!” Mom shouted back.
“Time,” Mayor Griffin said. “If you don’t mind, Mrs. Madison.”
Mom glared at him and returned to her seat. She didn’t sit next to us, but everyone knew she was my mother anyway, so it wouldn’t help.
Someone from Southside took the mic at the end of the other aisle. Their speech wasn’t anywhere near as passionate as Mom’s, but it sure got a lot more support from the Southsiders. He mentioned how visitors would prefer to visit a place with modern facilities and chain stores.
Although I would never admit it to Mom, I kind of agreed with him. Why would anyone want to buy ugly, cheap trinkets and last season’s outfits from Northside when they could visit somewhere with couture and class, like Southside.
When no one else moved forward to take the mic, Mayor Griffin cleared his throat again. “Now that we’ve heard testimony from both sides, I will take the vote.” The mayor sat a locked wooden box on the podium. “Council members, please step forward one at a time and place your vote in the ballot box.”
They all did as he asked, wearing serious faces and not making eye contact with anyone in the crowd. Sage wriggled on her pillow. “I wonder what it’s going to be.”
All I wanted was for it to be over so I could get out of these tight pants and into my pajamas.
Once the last councilor had cast her vote, Dad and another man I had never seen before counted the ballots. Wearing his most serious face, Dad wrote the final result on a piece of paper and handed it to the Mayor.
The whole room went silent.
Someone sneezed.
Mayor Griffin opened the note and spread it out to read it. “The result is conclusive. The location of the new, Goodwin Memorial Park will be located on Montague’s. . .” He looked up and paused.
Sage clasped her fists in front of her face, squeezed her eyes closed and whispered “please, please, please.”
My mother’s voice wailed over the top of everyone else’s. “No!”
Judging by the shouts and rude language coming from our side of the room, no one else on our side was any happier. Combined with the cheering from the other side, the noise was awful. Sage held her pillow over her head and squealed.
I tried to stand up, but got knocked back into my seat by some woman’s super-wide hips as she shoved past us, ranting about megalomaniac mayors. When I tried to stand up again, Sage pulled me down. “You’ll get run over or trampled.”
She had a point. Those women wore heels.
We waited until the people thinned out a bit—Sage under her pillow, me with my legs drawn up to protect my pedicure. The winning team celebrated near the front of the hall, shaking hands and laughing in deep, belly laughs. Most of our side had gone by now, but not Mom. She stood next to Mayor Griffin, trying to get in the last word. Dad, who happened to not only be Mayor Griffin’s right-hand man, but separated from (but still living with, and being tortured by) my mom. Things were bound to get ugly, right where the whole town would see.
“Poor Dad. This is humiliating,” I groaned. Since it was safe for my toes now, I got up.
Sage peeked out from under her pillow. “Mom said we had to stay here.”
“And Dad said if we can find a way to enjoy ourselves, we should.” I sidled out of our row of seats and stalked up to my mother.
“You have to have everything Southside,” Mom ranted, waving her hand in front of Mayor Griffin’s shiny face. “What about Northside’s property values? We don’t count as much as you and your property portfolio, though, do we?”
Dad dried his upper lip with his handkerchief and leaned out from behind Mayor Griffin. “It’s not about property values, Mary-Rose.”
Mom’s eyes widened and so did her nostrils. “You would say that, wouldn’t you? It’s not like our home matters to you anymore.”
I waited for dad to shout back that the only part of our home he was allowed anymore was the apartment over the garage, but he stepped back behind the Mayor instead.
“Mom.” I tugged at her sleeve, but she jerked her arm away. “It’s not Dad’s fault.”
Mayor Griffin acted as if Mom didn’t exist. Some kid beside him—all bones and slicked-down red hair—tried the sleeve-tugging technique on him. “Dad, Mrs. Madison is trying to talk to you.”
He had no more luck than I did. The boy, who I remembered had some sort of an English name like Oliver or Sebastian, smiled at me through his mouthful of hardware. “Sorry.”
Mom noticed me then. Oh boy, did she ever notice me.
She grabbed my arm and yanked me away from the boy. “This family will have nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with anyone in that family. Do I make myself clear? You will never, ever speak to that boy again!”
I glanced over at the kid and his embarrassed smile.
Now that sounded like a challenge.

Keep Reading

Chapter 3

I am fortune’s fool Julian

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