Cessily stood resolute on the bluff, arms folded and her brows stitched together above a pair of angry green eyes that favored her mother’s; the pinafore she wore over her dress billowed a little in the breeze, which was not strong enough to carry aloft her self-pity. Inside the house she could hear her brother wailing over her mother’s reprimands, which to her way of thinking could never suffice as punishment for the crime. Its outcome remained in question, for the rest of the jury was hard at work in the barn and would linger there some time before rendering a final judgment.
But it was plain enough to see, she thought: Andy had willfully destroyed the paper on which Cessily had toiled for an hour or more, painstakingly making letters in cursive, concentrating her efforts intently over every curvilinear whorl, and lifting her pencil only when a letter sanctioned it (one should dot one’s little i’s and cross one’s little t’s, after all). For a time she had lost herself in the notion that some of the letters bore so little resemblance to their block printed counterparts, like the capital Q, which looked in cursive more like the number 2. But the very idea she held the key to this knowledge, and could not only read, but read cursive handwriting, made Cessily positively giddy.
For his part, Andy stridently denied his sister’s claim and insisted she had taunted him with the paper, waving it in his face, and that she got what she deserved. It was a lie, she said aloud to the river down below. Andy had instigated the conflict when he purposefully stepped just close enough to the practice paper to avoid stepping on it, where it lay on the floor before Cessily, who had been stretched out on her belly hard at work.
Cessily’s tears came in waves now, flowing more freely each time she considered the injustice of the afternoon—and most especially the notion that her mother wouldn’t accept Cessily’s version of events unquestioningly. But Claudia had not seen what happened and possessed a mother’s wisdom. While she suspected there might be at least a kernel of truth to Cessily’s account, she sent her outside to be alone with her misery, the only failsafe strategy she knew for this complicated child.
Cessily set off down the steep, grassy hill to the river below, consoling herself with each carefully balanced step. Standing on the dry silt at the river’s edge she grasped the pinafore between her sweaty palms and smeared what was left of the tears from her cheeks. The river that seemed so small from the bluff now stretched wide before her; across it stood a grand home built on a grassy knoll, with neat rows of crops laid out before it and following the contours of the land. A flag snapped in the breeze from the top of a tall pole just beyond the home’s veranda, where a pair of children chased each other; their laughter carried effortlessly over the water and reached Cessily’s ears, rendering the events of the afternoon so small and inconsequential now. She could see they were a boy and a girl, who stopped and stared back across the river and directly at her. The pair had flaxen hair, so fair in the sunlight it was almost white, she thought; the girl wore a pinafore over her dress like Cessily’s.
Suddenly the girl waved; Cessily raised her arm and waved back.