Theirs is the smallest room. Pale blue walls with white trim. Two narrow single beds covered in thin white quilts. Helen has already unpacked her suitcase and washed her face when her suitemate, Vanita Louise Baker, arrives.
"This must have been the room for Brigham Young's ugly wife," Vanita says.
Helen laughs but uncomfortably. She doesn't believe in making fun of a prophet but she doesn't want to offend her new roommate, either.
Vanita is in all ways already a surprise.
Helen had thought she'd have red hair for some reason. But she doesn't. Her hair is curly and black. And she's not tall as Helen expected Vanita would be. Instead she's shorter than Helen, plumper too. Yet she moves with enviable confidence and ease.
That night, when they've changed into nightgowns, Helen sits on the edge of her new bed, listening as Vanita talks. Vanita tells her she’s from Seattle, she's a convert, and she joined her junior year of high school.
"What can I say? Mark McKay wanted to take me to the prom but his mother said he could only date Mormon girls,” Vanita says.
She starts work next week at Auerbach's as an elevator girl but what she really wants is to sell dresses at The Paris, she says.
And after that? Helen asks.
“I want to be a buyer for some big department store.”
Helen has no idea what a buyer for a department store is, but she doesn't dare ask. And Vanita doesn't explain. She goes on talking, saying she left a boy behind in Seattle.
When Helen asks what he's like, Vanita says suddenly, inexplicably, "Never mind. I don't want to talk about him. He's not worth the effort of breath."
The next night it's close to midnight when Vanita, after describing the dress she hoped to buy for herself by the end of the year, says, "Now seriously, Helen, what about you? You know everything about me. I know next to nothing about you."
Helen wants to tell Vanita she's a fourth-generation Mormon whose ancestors pushed handcarts across the rutted Kansas plains. That she feels like she's crossed the plains to get here. That she's never seen anything more beautiful than the Beehive House. Greek pillars and wrought-iron gate in front. A sleeping porch running the length of the house. An intricately carved clock inside the front entrance. A chandelier in the dining room. A red velvet couch in the living room, the only room.
But she doesn't say any of this. She's too shy.
Instead she says, "There's not much to tell," and offers the barest facts, that she's the oldest of three, that she has two brothers, that her father is a farmer, that she's a student at the LDS Business College, working toward a bookkeeping certificate.
“And where exactly are you from?” Vanita asks.
"Panguitch," Helen says, "a small town in southern Utah."
"I've never heard of it," Vanita says.
“No one has,” Helen says, a small vein of melancholy opening inside her. Vanita changes the subject, begins talking about some movie where a girl moves to the city from a desolate small town.
Helen listens. She watches as Vanita gets undressed. Her nightgown is pale pink with a red ribbon looped in small stitches at the neck.
By the end of their first month in the Beehive House, they’re like sisters, joined at the hip. Helen blushes when Shirley Thomas says as much over supper one night. Helen has no idea what sisters are like. She only has brothers. But it’s true, they're inseparable. They sit next to each other at breakfast and supper, both. They go to movies together. They meet for lunch downtown. When all of the girls at the Beehive House are asked to sign up to do chores, Helen and Vanita volunteer to work in the laundry room, folding sheets together. Vanita continues talking. Helen continues listening. It's refreshing. Astonishing. Like standing near a waterfall.
When the weather turns, Vanita borrows Helen's red wool scarf and black leather gloves. The gloves are the nicest thing Helen owns.
"It's not all that cold in Seattle," Vanita tells Helen. "Why on earth would I own a pair of leather gloves."
Helen doesn't mind. She likes it, in fact.
And she likes how Vanita often says, "Why on earth" as if ordinary reason does not apply. She doesn't mind paying for both of them when they go out, either. If Vanita doesn't have money—Vanita's mother is divorced and can't afford to help her out and her job at Auerbach's only pays so much—well, why on earth would Helen forgo the pleasure of a movie with Vanita? Or sit there after the movies and eat a powdered donut in front of her friend?
When they eat donuts, Vanita has a moustache of powder above her lip.
At Auerbach's one afternoon Vanita ushers Helen through the first floor, waving to clerks behind counters as if she owns the place. Auerbach's has high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, a café in the basement that serves real fish and chips, not halibut but cod.
Vanita takes Helen to the perfume counter and tells the sales clerk, "My friend Helen wants to try the most expensive perfume you have. She's looking for a gift for her mother, something special. Her mother turns fifty this year."
Not a word of it is true. Is this why Helen is transfixed?
She offers her hand to the clerk, turns her palm upward, watches as the clerk sprays the tiniest amount of perfume on Helen’s wrist.
When the clerk says, "Would you like me to wrap it up?" Helen says, "I'd like to think about it."
When Vanita goes back to work, Helen rides up and down in the elevator alongside her friend, then walks through the fur department on the second floor, too shy to touch the coats outright though her fingers brush against a mink stole accidentally. For the rest of the afternoon, even after she's arrived back in the Beehive House, the scent of that extravagant perfume, something close to cinnamon, envelops her.
Late one night as the two girls sit on top of their beds, Vanita says, "You need to wear brighter colors, Helen."
So Helen waits as Vanita puts two coats of bright red polish on Helen's nails, blowing on each nail, chattering about girls in the Beehive House, how Shirley is annoying, Margaret more complicated than she lets on, asking, "What do you think Delia’s story is?"
Delia is the receptionist who works in the small office in an annex behind the Beehive House. Vanita says the other day she saw Delia reading a letter, crying, and over her shoulder Vanita could see the letter was signed, "Heaps of Love."
"So that means romantic trouble, right?" Vanita says.
"I guess so," Helen says.
Vanita idly paints small red x's on each of her own fingernails, then begins painting over them, one by one, then waving her hands in the air, encouraging her nails to dry.
Helen has never noticed anything special about Delia, has never thought of someone as having a story. She wonders what her story is, what her story could be.
Briefly, she waves her hands in the air just like Vanita has, but only briefly. Her nails, after all, are already dry.
One night Vanita holds up a bottle of perfume and says, "Here's a trick, Helen, one your mother probably never taught you. Tuck your perfume in a drawer. It's a way of making your panties something special, something to remember."
All fall, every morning, Helen gets dressed for her classes at the Business College and Vanita gets dressed for her job at Auerbach's and they join the other girls for breakfast and later, they join the other girls for supper as well and everyone knows if Vanita's going somewhere, Helen will be going too.
"Oh you two," Margaret says one night when Helen and Vanita come home late from the movies. Helen doesn’t blush this time. She can feel it in her bones it isn’t a compliment. But what it is, she’s not entirely sure.
But they argue too. Over Vanita leaving the light on late at night. Over Beehive House rules. Helen doesn't say a word about the light for weeks but grows exhausted, wide-eyed and restless, unable to sleep. And there's no point in repeating the rules of the house; Vanita already knows them—including the one that says no visitors are allowed in bedrooms, except family members and even then, you have to clear it with Delia up front—but just doesn't care.
One night Vanita brings a boy to their room. Helen is so startled she doesn't even hear his name. The boy sprawls out onto Vanita's bed and eyes Vanita who sits on the edge, crossing and uncrossing her legs flirtatiously.
"Don't you two have anything to drink?" he says. He's staring at Vanita.
"That's your job," Vanita says.
Helen holds her breath, knowing if they get caught, it won't matter that the visit was Vanita's idea. The whole thing makes her want to disappear. But she doesn't have to. Neither the boy nor Vanita pay attention to her. She might as well be wallpaper. They don't look at her or talk to her. They just banter and Vanita says to the boy, "Get your boots off my bedspread. You're going to get it dirty."
He takes his boots off, then his socks. He puts his arm around Vanita and kisses her ear.
Helen sees he has a blister on one toe. It looks to be bleeding. She feels embarrassed for him and ashamed that she's staring. But she needn't. She knows that to them, it's as if Helen isn't even there.
When Vanita opens a flask late one night, Helen frowns but says nothing. Vanita says it's nobody's business what she drinks and then invites Helen to try some.
"Whiskey will help you fall asleep," she says. "It's medicinal."
Helen shakes her head disapprovingly, climbs into bed, opens up a textbook.
Vanita sighs. “If not now, Helen, when?” she asks. Her voice sounds plaintive. A few minutes later she says, "Helen, don't be such a spoilsport. Don't you even want to know what it's like to be young?"
The tensions between them wear Helen out but they electrify her too. At home she is the only girl among boys. Her brothers love farming. Her father is a farmer. Her mother is a farmer's wife. No one talks—let alone fights—because they're working all the time, their bodies conversing with cattle, with wheat, with weather, with snow, wind and heat, all of the particularities of the land. Talk, even tension-filled talk, is to Helen like the perfumed air at Auerbach's: a luxury.
So Helen tells no one of their fights, fearful that if she does, Vanita will assume Helen wants a new roommate, which she does not. No, she does not.
Once, on a night when the weather has turned cold, when both girls are in bed and the lights are out, Helen whispers what she's never told anyone else: that she does not want to go back to Panguitch, that she does not want to live in her hometown the rest of her life. She holds her breath, hoping Vanita will not make light of it, will not say, why on earth would you think you had to live in Panguitch when really, Helen, you could live anywhere.
Her mind is full of stories swirling, recollections she would love to tell Vanita if she could find a way to get the words out. How, for instance, as a girl, Helen watched the Quilt Walk on Main Street in her hometown each year, a celebration of her town's beginnings, a history Helen knew by heart. How crops froze that first winter in Panguitch. How settlers faced starvation. How seven men volunteered to go over the mountain to Parowan to secure supplies. How the snow was too deep for their wagons. How the men kept falling. Finally one of them thought to bring out quilts to create traction, one quilt at a time. Reaching the end of one quilt, they'd place another in front of them on the snow, retrieving the one they'd just walked over. They'd had no choice but to go slow. Finally they reached Parowan and walked back to Panguitch again, a trip that took fourteen days, bringing flour. The flour allowed the townspeople of Panguitch to survive.
One year Helen was selected to walk in the parade. Her mother made her a calico dress and matching bonnet for her costume of a pioneer girl. She was nine at the time. She held the hand of a neighbor lady, Sister Brown, and an older girl who smelled like lemons. It was strange to walk as if she belonged to a family that wasn't her own.
The sun was strong that afternoon. At first Helen was glad for the bonnet with a small rim that provided shade. But soon the heat got to be too much. Her hair was damp underneath her hat. She felt as if she might even faint. Halfway through the parade, she let go of her new mother's hand and took her bonnet off and shook her hair out, and the feel of fresh air on the nape of her neck felt shockingly good. She covered her eyes and squinted in the sun, hoping to see her mother waving from the sidelines or her father or her brothers. But she couldn't see them, any of them. If her family was there, she never knew.
She doesn't tell Vanita any of this. She just holds her breath, hoping she will understand. Helen doesn't want to go home. Home doesn't seem like home to her anymore.
But Vanita does not make light of what Helen has said. Instead she says very quietly, her words a lullaby in their small dark room, "You're here now, Helen. You're here."
One night during supper Helen steps outside the dining hall to fix a button on her blouse she notices has come undone. That's when she overhears Margaret Nielsen say to some of the girls at the table, "Vanita takes advantage of her. That poor girl has no confidence whatsoever in herself."
She knows Margaret is talking about her, that Helen is the one with no confidence. And a fury smolders in Helen so fiercely she turns away, misses dessert, instead goes to her room.
That night, before she falls asleep, she composes a note to Margaret while curled up in bed, revising the words over and over again, saying in various ways, "I am not someone to be pitied," which seems the boldest thing she's ever done.
Vanita doesn't get home till late that night. She smells of cigarettes. Helen asks her where she’s been. Vanita says vaguely, "Out. I've been out." Then she asks, “What are you working on there, Helen? Gone With the Wind?"
Helen covers her hand over the pad, full of scribblings. She never finishes the note. She never says anything to Margaret or anyone else.
The real trouble begins after Thanksgiving. Helen notices some of her belongings missing. A necklace with a single pearl attached; a fountain pen given to her by an aunt, useful for shorthand; then this: a leather bound journal that she'd bought when she first moved to the Beehive House, a gift to herself when she'd started college. She hadn't written in it yet. She’d wanted each entry to be perfect. She’d wanted to take her time, not write something in pen she'd want to erase, she'd later regret.
She doesn't suspect Vanita at first. But then, when she's checked and rechecked her drawers multiple times—she knows it was Vanita, it has to have been Vanita.
She waits a few days, then one more, then finally, one afternoon when she's back from classes and knows Vanita is at work, she looks in her friend's drawer. There, underneath bras and panties, is a bottle of perfume and next to the perfume is Helen's journal, the smell of leather mingling with the smell of Je Reviens. When she opens the journal she sees Vanita's sprawling, spontaneous script on the first page. Her name, Vanita Louise Baker. And now, added to the end, another name: Sheridan.
When Helen was a girl, she saw an ad in her brothers' old Popular Mechanics magazine for a small diamond watch.
A FEW CENTS A DAY IS THE SANTA FE WAY
She showed her mother the picture and her mother said, "Those aren't diamonds, Helen. The ad is for a watch or a diamond, not both." But Helen remained convinced her mother was wrong.
The ad showed two watches on either side of a diamond ring and something sparkled in one of the watches, tiny diamonds, she was sure of it.
THAT WATCH YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED, LONGED FOR—
YOU NEEDN'T WAIT ANY LONGER
She cut the ad out and folded it inside the pages of her Old Testament, in 2 Chronicles.
She thought about that watch every day for a whole year before facing the fact that her mother wasn't going to buy it for her, that the watch was beyond her reach. Gradually she forgot about it. But she thought of the watch again, out of the blue, that first morning in the Beehive House, a palace compared to the plain white farmhouse in Panguitch where she grew up, when she walked into the living room and saw the velvet sofa underneath a chandelier shining like a hundred candles.
Deila handed Helen a letter of introduction with her name, Helen Marie Woodland, typed below her new suitemate's.
Vanita Louise Baker
Vanita. Helen had never heard the name before. It sounded like a merging of Vanessa and Anita, exotic and new.
You needn't wait any longer, she'd thought, walking toward her new room with its white trim and pale blue walls.
The diamonds on the watch were real.
This house, this glorious house, was hers.
It doesn't occur to her to take her own journal back. Or to get angry at Vanita for stealing it or writing in Helen's journal Vanita's new name. Her mind is too jumbled for anything to occur to her except this: she has to get out.
She grabs her coat and purse and slips a note under Delia’s office door saying she won't be home for supper. When she leaves, she has no idea where she's going, only that she feels lightheaded and unmoored and confused.
She doesn't want to see Vanita. Not yet. She wants to think this through, to figure it out. Had Vanita gotten married? Why hadn't she told Helen?
She walks up State Street, into the library, across its limestone floors, up its grand spiral staircase. She takes a seat as far away from the librarian's oak desk as she can. She wants to get her bearings. She doesn't know what stings more: the getting-married part or the not-telling-Helen part.
Now she wishes she'd taken the journal back. Maybe that would show Vanita that she can't treat Helen as she does, like dirt.
She can feel the librarian's eyes on her even at this distance so she gets up and wanders the stacks, pulling books and magazines off shelves randomly. Phenomenology of Perception. Good Housekeeping. The Great Divorce. She carries her titles back to the table, then opens each one up, pretending to read.
But she cannot concentrate. She cannot read.
She tries to remember name of the boy Vanita brought to the Beehive House. David something? Jed something? He smelled of cigarettes. He wore clean brown boots. His socks, she noticed, when he took them off, though, were filthy. And his toes. She remembers his toes, how ugly they were.
Was his last name Sheridan? Or maybe she married the boy from Seattle, the one she never wanted to talk about?
When she leaves the library, it's dusk. She's cold and hungry. She can't go back to the Beehive House. She already told Delia she won't be there for supper.
She walks to the City and County Building, stares at the carvings of pioneer women on one side, gargoyles and eagles and sea monsters on another. She keeps walking down to Main Street, then toward Lamb's, a restaurant Vanita has said they should go to sometime. Inside, there's a smooth counter in front of a huge mirror and beyond that, tables covered in white linen. The carpet is a deep red with small flecks of gold that look like tiny yellow roses. Helen wonders if she’s dragging mud in on her shoes from outside.
At the counter, she feels self-conscious, as if someone, the mirror, is watching her, how she opens the menu, how she unfolds her napkin, how she avoids looking at her reflection but cannot find anything but the mirror to focus on once she puts the menu down.
Next to her is an older gentleman in a dark blue suit, drinking coffee, reading the Tribune. He looks at home, as if he's sat at a counter like this one a hundred times before. When the waitress comes, Helen asks her, "What do you recommend?" but when the woman says, “You can’t really go wrong with tuna on rye,” Helen fishes around in her bag for her wallet, checks and sees she doesn't have enough for a sandwich. So she orders a small lemonade and French fries instead.
The man in the suit leaves bills on the counter, folds up his newspaper next to the napkin. Helen can see a headline that says GRAND JURY INDICTS HISS ON CHARGES OF PERJURY. She eats each of her French fries slowly, dipping a single one into a puddle of ketchup, counting each bite, a trick Vanita taught her, which Vanita said made you not want to eat as much. When the man in the suit leaves, Helen pretends to read the newspaper he left.
Other customers come and go. One takes the stool beside her, a businessman, and chats with the waitress about the weather, how it looked as if it might snow today but nothing. And tonight? Just clear bitter cold.
It's after nine o'clock when she leaves Lamb's. She searches her purse and pockets for gloves underneath the neon light of the restaurant but her gloves are not there. She must have left them home. The Beehive House. Suddenly, the Beehive House does not strike her as home and she's overcome by homesickness, but homesickness for where? Not Panguitch. Not her small room with Vanita.
When she begins walking, the winter air slaps her face and stings her lungs. She keeps her hands buried in coat pockets.
She does not think of anything except the cold air, the six blocks, and Vanita Baker. Vanita Baker Sheridan.
When she arrives, the Beehive House is dark.
Shirley is the one who tells Helen. "She eloped. She moved out. Didn't she tell you?"
They are standing upstairs in the hallway. Shirley is dressed for bed. She looks like a child in her flannel nightgown. For a split second Helen feels the prick of accusation threaded into Shirley's words.
"She didn't even say goodbye. She just packed up her things and left. She didn't tell you?"
"No, she never said anything," Helen says.
She's exhausted. Her hands are frozen. She wants desperately to run them under hot water. "I had no idea."
Two days later, classes at the Business College end. The holiday season is now fully underway. Auerbach's features garlands wrapped around its majestic pillars and a special eggnog at its second-floor café.
Helen goes through the motions, taking her final shorthand test, going to see the lights on Temple Square with Shirley and Margaret and Maxine from the Beehive House, shivering in the night air. Her room is empty of Vanita Baker.
At the dinner table conversations circle around Vanita, the strangeness of it, the surprise. Who would elope? It's so sad. Won't she regret it? Maybe she had to get married. With Vanita, the girls say, laughing lightly, you never know.
Helen goes underwater as the talk swirls around her. She understands, finally, what people mean when they say they are living in a dream, the proximity of the dream to the nightmare.
She sleeps with the light on, which does not help.
But after just a few days, the talk of Vanita recedes and shifts and the girls talk only of how excited they are to soon return home. To Garland. Spanish Fork. Thistle. Cheyenne.
Two days before Christmas, Helen hands her suitcase to a taxi driver at 1:15 in the morning. The air is bitter, the sky absent of any stars. The driver yawns and runs his hands through his hair, asks, “Where are you headed?”
“Panguitch,” Helen says.
“Never heard of it,” the driver says.
“My train leaves at two.”
When the cab pulls up to the train station, the driver turns off the meter, says, “Fifty cents, Miss.”
“Fifty?” she says. She’s sure she heard him wrong. That’s twice as much as Helen thought it would be.
“Yes, Miss. Fifty cents.”
She hands him the quarter she’s placed in advance in her coat pocket, says, “Just a minute. I must have calculated wrong.”
“There’s a drop fare, Miss. And wait-time of two minutes. That’s twenty cents plus another five.“
She fumbles in her bag but the cab is dark. Finally she finds her wallet, locates what she thinks is another quarter, holds it up in the dark to see.
When her train pulls out of the station at 2:05 a.m., she’s rattled. She wraps her scarf closer around her neck, stares into the dark landscape, wishing she’d argued with the taxi driver who she's now sure cheated her. But how? She had no idea how.
The train makes its way from north to south, from city to sagebrush, and Helen soothes herself mile by mile, shedding the cost of the taxicab, as she stares out into the darkness. She can imagine what’s disappearing, the trolleys and libraries and velvet couches of the city turning into long stretches of empty fields covered in snow. Soon the fields will yield onions, seed potatoes, corn, pumpkins, cowpeas. She knows the growing seasons well.
She sleeps lightly, then wakes, then sleeps again, and in that in-between state she remembers catching chickens in the yard in Panguitch so her mother could tie their legs together before cutting their heads off. She must have been six or seven at the time.
She remembers her mother standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, telling Helen, get a dishtowel and dry these for me, please.
She remembers how quiet the house was when the boys were gone.
She remembers holding those chickens in her lap as her mother tied their legs, whispering to them, it will be OK, it will be OK.
She remembers shucking corn on the porch the summer before leaving for Salt Lake. Her mother, she knew, did not want Helen to go.
"It's a shame those city girls don't know the difference between wheat and barley," her mother said.
Shortly after 4 a.m. she changes trains in Thistle and falls into a deeper sleep for the duration of the ride as her train stops in familiar towns: Milburn, Spring City, Gunnison, Elsinore.
When she wakes she sees a thin layer of soot covers the left arm of her gray wool coat.
The sun is up now, the train nearing Marysville. Helen's father will be waiting in the black Ford in Marysville to pick her up. Her mother will be cooking breakfast. Helen uses her scarf to brush the soot from her coat, looks out the window, shields the sun from her eyes.
She remembers something her mother used to say. "What's yours is not only yours alone." It was a reminder to share when Helen and her brothers, as children, argued over a box of raisins, a small wooden train set, or the milky blue glass marbles that shone like tiny glass moons.
But her mother was wrong, Helen thinks. It comes to her with sudden clarity and force.
What's hers is hers and hers alone.
What she sees right here, right now—sharp sunlight igniting glittering fields of snow; a woman seated across from her whose hem is coming undone; even the remnants of soot on her coat, black threads of filth on gray—all of this, so strangely lovely, is hers and hers alone. So was the Beehive House, her perception of it, with its gold curtains and polished mahogany chairs, its red couch in the front room.
"Like a cake," Vanita once said.
And Vanita Baker—she too belonged to Helen and Helen alone. Belongs.
She's never been so sure of something in all her life. How private the world is. How silent and private and hers it is.
Before she gets off the train, before she sees her father, before her father loads her suitcase into the back of the car, before the two sit in silence on the thirty-minute ride home to Panguitch, Helen can feel it happening, something locking into place. Clarity without judgment. A sharp understanding.
She will not go back to the Beehive House.
She is through with college.
She will become a farmer's wife.
Three years after Helen leaves the Beehive House, her mother catches a bad cold, probably feeding the chickens in below-freezing temperatures, never mind wearing gloves. The cold turns to pneumonia. Unexpectedly, inexplicably, at forty-eight she dies.
Helen stands dry-eyed between her brothers and her father one February morning at the cemetery.
No one has to tell her what to do. That night she cuts up and freezes the casseroles the ward members have brought by the house. She does her father's laundry the next day and in the months to come, she takes care of the house, does her father's books, feeds the chickens, is careful to wear a warm coat, a wool hat, and gloves, always gloves.
She becomes, in essence, a farmer's wife, though she remains as well a farmer's daughter.
Her brothers continue farming with their father, marry as soon as they come of age, buy homes nearby, and have children of their own.
Helen returns to Salt Lake City every so often. To go shopping at Crossroads Mall. To see the Christmas lights at Temple Square. To go to the university hospital to see the specialists when her father, late in life, is sick with cancer of the colon.
She takes her nieces to lunch at the Lion House, famous for serving the best dinner rolls in the world. The Beehive House, now a museum filled with Brigham Young memorabilia, still stands next door. When she suggests they go on a tour, her nieces balk. They're not interested in tea sets or quilts or a desk that belonged to Brigham Young or anything else from the past. It will only cut into their shopping time.
They don't wonder what their aunt's story is yet, why she never married, why she didn't have kids. And what would she tell them if they did? That she's not sure herself? That all she knows is she left Panguitch, then returned?
She gave Margaret Nielsen the cold shoulder at breakfast the day after Margaret made that remark about Helen. And for every day after that, really, until Helen left the Beehive House. She never once went to the movies with Margaret again, not that they'd gone all that often, anyway, and she had felt a small kernel of pride in that, a pride she was never able to divulge but a pride that was nevertheless hers and hers alone.
There are things she doesn't tell anyone, pockets of private happiness, pockets of private pain.
How once Vanita missed the trolley and the two walked home in the plush dark of a November night. Vanita kept saying, "Call me a taxi, Helen," and Helen said, right on cue, over and over again—and each time it was funnier than the last—"You are a taxi, Vanita Baker! I swear, you are a taxi!"
How sometimes in the morning, Helen stands at her kitchen sink—maybe she’s scrubbing a skillet covered in egg, maybe she’s filling a pot with water, preparing to make oatmeal—and as she looks out her window, the story of her town floats through her mind unbidden, what happened after those men made that initial trek, using those quilts. How they left Panguitch the year after that wretched winter but returned, as legend has it, five years later, not because they wanted to but because Brigham Young said they should. They expected more trouble. Another hard year. But when they arrived in March, there was no snow on the ground. The houses were untouched, the crops still standing.
She can imagine it. She can see it now.
Winter wheat gleaming, hers now in the pale diamond sun.
Marilyn Abildskov is the author of The Men In My Country. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and teaches in the MFA Program at Saint Mary's College of California.