Welcome to October
CHAPTER
9
An Incident Icky
Everyone in October was talking about poor Mrs. Wutsitz. And about Ichabod Graves.
Perhaps things had changed in her absence abject, but Constance Down had never seen the market stir so strangely. The usual whispers well-meaning were hoarse and harsh and horrid.
And aimed, she noticed, at a defenseless little boy.
She cringed as the Gunns muttered madness about strangers being bad for October. Her ears prickled painfully at rumors of this being no accident at all.
“You heard what Mort said, didn’t you Vinny?” A cackle of men and women gathered around Vienna like ships being beckoned by a lighthouse. But all eyes were aimed at her twin brother, Vincent, who stood with his usual posture persnickety. Constance worried. With his clout in October as assistant to the mayor, the crowd could be calmed.
Or set fitfully on fire.
Vienna leaned forward, scanning her audience with both body and eyes. Constance noticed for the first time how sharp teeth could seem— how vicious a smile could be.
“Mort said he seen the boy!” she declared. “He seen him leaning over his mother and smilin’!”
October gasped aloud. Appalled.
“He did say that, didn’ he, Vinny,” Vienna voiced.
October waited anxiously. Vincent adjusted his handkerchief. With a breath deeper than his baritone voice, he replied. It took two words to cause an uproar. Those words were these:
“He did.”
October went wild in unison. The Gunns wagged their fists and their tongues. The Lambs went off like rockets, shouting obscenities in squeaky tones. The Friends weren’t all that friendly after exchanging ugly looks with the recently widowed Mrs. Mann. And somewhere behind the crowd was Constance Down, who had hoped her first public appearance in a month wouldn’t cause a scene. As Constance watched Vienna smile at the chaos she had caused, though, her blood boiled.
Shaking with fury, she said goodbye to that hope.
“But it’s a lie most ludicrous!” she shouted over the din.
October turned toward the voice, anger pointed, sharp and poisonous. But as they saw who was speaking, their faces changed. Their arms dropped.
Constance, red and raging, started toward Vienna Vale. The crowd awkwardly parted. Vienna’s smile slipped suddenly into a frown.
“Constance, Darling,” she said flatter than usual. As if she wanted to be sugary, but most of the fizz had gone out. Her eyes flickered with fear as they met Constance’s, filled with disgust. “So glad to see you’re back,” said Vienna. “We heard you went to see the Reverend. We were so worried. After Clara.”
Constance twitched, too focused to be completely shaken, but it seemed not focused enough... She knew she’d have to address it. Where she’d been and what happened. Clara. She knew October. She knew they’d be curious. She would have been, too. If Clara had belonged to someone else.
But Clara was hers. Her child. And she died. Clara’d slept and she walked and she fell down the stairs. And she never woke up again.
For a month, Constance, too ‘d been sleepwalking. But her children had woken her up. And now, there was a child being crucified by a city. She knew she’d have to talk about what’d happened. But first, she was going to talk about this.
Constance Down climbed up beside Vienna on her pulpit. She looked Vincent Vale in the nose.
“You know perfectly well that may not have happened.”
“I do,” agreed Vincent. “But I cannot lie, Constance. That is what Mort said.”
Constance turned to October. “My husband was there,” she argued. “Ichabod called to report the accident. And when Wei arrived, he said the poor boy seemed desperately distraught!”
“Well why didn’t ‘the poor boy’ get Mort immediately?” Norton Gunn asked.
“That’s right!” Vienna tittered gleefully. Constance glared daggers through her eyes and she cowered, changing her tone and her tune. “I meant I only heard that Mort didn’t know until Dr. Down got there an’ announced his ma dead.”
“There, you see?” Norton puffed his chest and grew big. The crowd took a step back and expanded. “If it really was an accident, the lad woulda gone for Mort. Not waited to phone a friend.”
October, giddy in their collective hate, readily agreed. But Constance grew even redder.
“That friend, Norton Gunn, happened to be a doctor. And one who’s saved your life more than a few times from all those seizures and attacks. Wei can’t perform miracles, but he has been known to do a bit more than come to collect your dead. So forgive me if I think ‘the lad’ made a decent choice.”
Norton gruffly cleared his throat and lowered his head. October murmured its opinions, but eventually became quiet. Constance was winning. She could save this situation yet.
“I know we all loved Mrs. Wutsitz,” Constance told them. “But we aren’t showing her any love by going after a little boy. He wasn’t responsible. It was an accident—”
“But that’s what they said about his father.”
The air went right out of Constance’s lungs.
Vienna was smiling again.
“It wasn’t his fault neither. It was an accident. Wasn’t it?”
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